On Monday morning, Shantell Russell’s daughter asked her — again — to quit smoking.

So Russell called it "bizarre" that later in the day she just happened upon Franklin County Public Health’s launch of the new Community Cessation Initiative that offers free counseling to help residents kick the tobacco habit.

"I’ve said I was gonna stop for a long time," said the 30-year-old East Side resident, who signed up for help after the kick-off event at Poindexter Place, where she had stopped to visit her grandmother. "I think it’s about time."

Russell echoed the sentiment of the public-health advocates who had minutes before wrapped up a news conference and information session at the Near East Side senior housing complex.

"Whatever reason you want to quit smoking, now's the time to start. You can quit, and we want to support your decision to do so," said Dr. Miller Sullivan, the health department's medical director. "It's worth it, quitting is worth it. You all are worth it, and your loved ones are worth it."

The three-year Community Cessation Initiative, referred to as CCI, will place special emphasis on people who are pregnant, have low socioeconomic status or have mental-health and substance-abuse disorders, Health Commissioner Joe Mazzola said. But any resident can participate, and advocates hope to reach about 26,250 people, or 15 percent, of the roughly 175,000 tobacco-users in the county.

"If we’re successful, if we're able to do that, we’ll be able to reduce our tobacco rates here in Franklin County, save lives and improve the health of our community," Mazzola said.

The initiative partners Franklin County Public Health with 15 public, non-profit and health-care organizations that will refer clients to CCI, said Theresa Seagraves, health systems and planning director for the health department. Five groups will also offer cessation services.

The partners will provide CCI with contact information for people who want to quit. Each will be given a phone call within 72 hours, asked a few questions and referred to a provider. Once that referral is made, the provider will contact the tobacco user to begin treatment.

Individuals also can join by calling (833) 224-7848.

Participants will be followed after treatment to offer support and help with any relapses, Seagraves said.

Also partnering in the program is the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority, where a smoke-free policy will go into effect at all properties in July.

"We recognize how hard it will be for our residents to comply with these rules. It is really tough to break a tobacco habit," said Sonja Nelson, the authority's assistant vice president of client services and quality improvement. "We want to not only encourage our residents to quit but also to give them the support to be able to make it happen."

The initiative is funded by a $1.6 million grant from the Ohio Department of Health and will be evaluated to determine whether it is successful.

"We’re hoping to prove this to be a sustainable model that can then be replicated throughout the state to address the enormous burden of tobacco on the health of Ohioans," said Mandy Burkett, director of the state health department’s tobacco program.

jviviano@disoatch.com

@JoAnneViviano