State resumes its tobacco quit line

Washington’s toll-free tobacco quit line is back in operation, one year after it was forced to shut down as a victim of the state’s budget problems.

“We’re thrilled to provide assistance to people again,” said Tim Church, a spokesman for the state Department of Health. “It’s been embarrassing to be the only state in the country that didn’t provide quit line help for people who didn’t have insurance.”

The state’s quit line began operations in November 2000. Since then, more than 160,000 people have called for help.

Uninsured adults, pregnant women and those on Medicare typically are eligible to receive counseling and four weeks of either nicotine patches or gum.

Initially, money for the tobacco cessation program came from several sources, including the state’s share of a national settlement with tobacco companies, Church said. Other money came from a state tobacco tax initiative approved by voters and some money from the state’s general fund.

Gov. Chris Gregoire was the state’s attorney general and helped negotiate the national settlement with tobacco companies. The state set aside $100 million of its settlement money for anti-tobacco programs, Church said.

Washington established a $27 million-a-year program to pay for anti-tobacco advertising and the quit line, as well as tobacco prevention and cessation programs run by local health departments and school districts.

“At $27 million a year, that money goes pretty fast,” Church said.

Although the state received additional money from the tobacco settlement, it was reallocated as part of a 2002 plan to help balance the budget, over Gregoire’s objections.

The budget move came at a time of economic recession triggered by the bursting of the high-tech bubble.

After years of dwindling money for anti-tobacco programs, the state’s toll free help line was shut down last year on June 30, the end of the fiscal year, when money for the program ran out.

The program was restarted this week with a one-time monetary shot of $1.7 million from the state’s tobacco prevention and control program, included in Gregoire’s budget.

The state also will receive two year-long grants of $400,000 each from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Church said.

The quit-line program is intended for people without health insurance or those who have insurance plans with few benefits.

Workers with more comprehensive health insurance plans typically qualify for smoking cessation programs as a benefit. These workers can still call the quit line to talk to someone trained in helping people stop smoking, Church said.

Tobacco quit lines have been shown to be an effective tool in helping wean people from tobacco, Church said.

“It makes it real,” he said. Callers are encouraged to set a quit date. They’re also given tips for how to break their daily smoking routines, such as a connection between getting up in the morning, having a cup of coffee and lighting up a cigarette.

“Some people just miss having the cigarette in their hands,” Church said. “If you’ve known a smoker, it’s one of the hardest things. It’s years and years of habit. They miss it.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com.

Get help

The state’s tobacco quitline is back in operation. The toll-free number is 800-QUIT-NOW or in Spanish, 877-2NO-FUME. Its services include free counseling, a personal quit plan, and referrals to local resources. More information: http://tinyurl.com/tobaccoquit.

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