Smoking Quitline a victim of cuts

  • By Sharon Salyer Herald Writer
  • Monday, July 18, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

More than a decade ago, Washington received millions as part of the national tobacco settlement. That money’s long gone.

And now, in the budgetary scramble to cut, cut, cut, the state is cutting a big chunk out of the Quitline, a toll-free number people could call who wanted help to stop smok

ing.

“If you’re uninsured and not on Medicaid … there is no longer free help in this state,” said Tim Church, a state Department of Health spokesman.

Last year, the program attempted to help nearly 14,000 uninsured Washington residents quit smoking.

Although a toll-free number still exists, its mission has changed. It now only serves Medicaid patients and those whose health insurance plans pay to help people quit smoking, through things like smoking cessation classes or nicotine patches.

In Snohomish County, limited resources are available.

The Snohomish Health District, on request, can mail pamphlets with tips on how to stop smoking. Providence Regional Medical Center Everett offers a regular series of four classes, but there’s a charge of $35.

And the Tulalip Tribes offer assistance to Snohomish County residents through a program headed by Nadiene Carter. To help as many people as possible, she said, she sometimes coaches people over the phone.

“The smoking didn’t start overnight,” Carter said. “You can’t just stop. It takes preparation and work.”

In Washington state and Snohomish County, about 15 of every 100 adults smoke.

A survey of Snohomish County students conducted last year found that 13.5 percent of 10th-grade students and 19.2 percent of 12th-graders had reported smoking a cigarette in the past 30 days.

The change in funding for the toll-free Quitline occurred on July 1, the start of the state’s new budget year.

Previously, the state Department of Health paid for smoking cessation help for the uninsured, Church said.

State support for tobacco cessation programs date back to 1999, when Washington received its first payment from a national tobacco settlement of $100 million, Church said.

That money was divided among tobacco prevention, education and cessation programs.

However, in the early part of this decade, a cash-strapped Legislature chose to sell part of its right to future payments in exchange for up-front money needed to fill a budget gap, he said.

Although the state continues to get money from the national tobacco settlement, it now goes to the general fund, not tobacco prevention.

“It’s always a surprise to people,” Church said.

In addition, a tax on cigarettes passed in 2001 initially had money set aside to combat smoking and tobacco use. It brought in about $9 million a year, Church said.

Eventually, budget issues forced the Legislature to put that money into filling the state’s general fund budget gaps, too, he said.

That left little money for tobacco programs. “Basically, the Legislature had to take action to fund the account or it would go down to zero,” Church said.

It didn’t happen. The only proposal to fund tobacco programs was tied to a suggestion to establish “cigar bars.” A hefty licensing fee would have been used to fund the state Health Department’s portion of the Quitline program.

“Nobody wanted to weaken our indoor tobacco smoking law,” Church said. “So the funding went away.”

As of July 1, the toll-free number is being run with some money coming from the state Department of Social and Health Services to pay for Medicaid patients. Some money also comes from organizations whose health plans pay for the cost of tobacco cessation services.

During the decade it received state Department of Health funding, the Quitline helped more than 160,000 state residents.

“We think it made a difference,” Church said. “It’s been hard on all of us to have it go away.”

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

Where to get help

•Medicaid patients and those whose insurance plans cover stop-smoking services can be obtained through a toll free Quitline at 800-784-8669.

The Snohomish Health District’s Tobacco Resource Line has information pamphlets available; call 425-339-5237.

Providence Regional Medical Center Everett offers a series of four classes called the Stop Smoking Tool Shop. The next series begins Aug. 9 and continues on Tuesdays through Aug. 30. The classes are from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Cascade Room of the Medical Office Building, 1330 Rockefeller Ave., Everett. The charge for all four classes is $35. Call 425-261-3780 for information.

The Tulalip Tribes offers phone counseling and help for individuals and group classes to stop smoking for people 18 years or older living in Snohomish County. Call 360-716-5719 or email ncarter@tulaliptribes-msn.gov for information.

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