State depends on hotline to help smokers quit

While smoking rates in Missouri remain high, the state hopes to curb them through a hotline. 

Budget cuts have caused many smoking cessation programs in the area to stop, but the Missouri Tobacco Quitline is looking to pick up the slack and help people quit in the new year. 

In the fiscal year of 2018, state spending on tobacco cessation efforts will hover around $48,500, a drop from about $109,000 in fiscal year 2017. Officials at the Centers for Disease Control Prevention suggest the state should be spending about $73 million to help people kick the habit. 

“We have the cheapest cigarette tax in the country, therefore we have some of the highest smoking rates,” said Nancy Taylor, health educator at the at the St. Joseph Health Department.

With the Quitline, at 1-800-QUIT-NOW, the hope is to encourage people to quit through phone calls and texts.

“It’s a really great tool to use because you can call and you get a quit coach and you get communications through phone, texting, through e-mail, whatever way you prefer,” Taylor said. 

The Quitline, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, helps set up a program for those wanting to quit smoking or chewing tobacco and those fearing a relapse. 

The service is coordinated by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and funded through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“They’ll help you through the process, and sometimes if the state has funding, they can also provide some nicotine replacement therapy,” Taylor said.

The Quitline is expected to be busy with New Year’s resolutions, with seven out of 10 smokers reportedly wanting to quit, according to a 2015 CDC report. Taylor said a program like the Quitline yields better results than trying to quit on your own. 

“If you just quit cold turkey, you’re not going to be as successful staying (smoke-free). But if you have a quit plan, then you’re much more apt to have a successful quit,” Taylor said.

While the Quitline has become a bigger resource in terms of the state wanting to curb tobacco use, other organizations like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids have been pushing officials to do more to help those wanting to quit. 

A $1.5 billion settlement in 1998 with four of the biggest cigarette manufacturers has resulted in millions of dollars being given to the state. In fiscal year 2017, $191 million of that was received, with only a fraction going towards tobacco cessation efforts. 

With smoking causing about 11,000 deaths per year in Missouri, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and costing about $3.03 billion in annual health care costs, Taylor would like to see more done to curb the habit and educate young people about the long-term effects of smoking and vaping.

“We used to have some funding to address tobacco use prevention through the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. We don’t have that anymore,” she said.

It hasn’t always been that way, as past resources like classes and programs Taylor taught got a response from the community.

“We had a fairly good grant about five or six years ago that we got through the Missouri Foundation of Health to offer classes and nicotine replacement therapy,” she said. “We had about 250 people take advantage of the program. It was free, so it was a great program.”

The money for those programs in St. Joseph was reallocated for programs in the southern part of the state that have higher smoking and obesity rates. 

“That’s not to say that they don’t come out with some new programs that we could apply for. Currently, we don’t have that funding,” Taylor said.

While future funding for tobacco cessation programs remain unclear, Taylor said the Quitline has proven to be a solid resource in times of budget cuts and restraints.

“I’m really impressed by it and it’s a good resource because not everybody wants to take a class to quit smoking. The Quitline is more personal, one-on-one type of interaction,” she said.