Anti-smoking cuts hurt

July 30, 2013 

State funding for a telephone quit line to help smokers kick their habit has been eliminated, a move that qualifies as shortsighted and counterproductive.

The $1.7 million that the state expects to save in the new state budget is a drop in the bucket compared with health cost savings the state achieves when smokers stop using tobacco.

A case in point: The state Department of Health estimates the 329,000 former smokers in this state together account for roughly $3 billion in avoided future health care costs associated with smoking.

The quit line receives about 10,000 calls a year. Someone using a service is twice as likely to quit smoking as someone who doesn’t, according to results of a study of California’s quit line. Clearly, it is an important service in the array of those available to people trying to free themselves of their nicotine addiction.

Here’s what’s happened of late: Effective Aug. 1, most of the quit line’s services will no longer be available to uninsured smokers in this state. They’ll be able to call once, but that’s it.

Right now, someone calling 800-QUIT-NOW reaches a Seattle call center, which offers both counseling and therapies to thwart the craving for nicotine.

It also is not clear how insured smokers will access smoking cessation programs when the federal Affordable Health Care Act takes effect next year.

There was a time not too long ago when this state was a leader in tobacco prevention and cessation. The state spent as much as $27 million a year on programs that reached vulnerable teens in the schools about the health risks of smoking. Anti-smoking advertising campaigns were commonplace on television and the radio. And the smoking quit line played an important role, too.

The programs have made a difference. The number of adult smokers declined about 30 percent since 2000, and the adult smoking rate of 17.4 percent is one of the lowest in the nation.

But diversion of state funding for stop smoking efforts to help patch holes in the state budget sends the wrong message.

The state cigarette tax in Washington is more than $3 a pack, which makes it the fifth-highest in the nation. Most of that money should be directed to helping smokers quit.

Tobacco companies won’t sit idly by as the state’s anti-smoking programs wither on the vine. It would be a shame to see the inroads made in the battle against nicotine addiction derailed by poor budget decisions by state lawmakers.

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