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Roswell Park’s tobacco treatment specialists assist some 30,000 people per year
√ Upcoming increase in cigarette tax expected to trigger more calls for help
√ New texting option delivers proven strategies to quit smoking for good
√ New York state residents pay nothing for the service, regardless of income
Submitted by the New York State Smokers’ Quitline
Every year, more than 30,000 people contact the New York State Smokers’ Quitline for help in ending their dependence on commercial tobacco products. That lifeline will remain in place, thanks to the New York State Health Department’s renewal of its contract with Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, home of the Quitline since it began 23 years ago. Awarded on a competitive basis, the $20 million contract ensures funding for the program for the next five years.
“The New York State Smokers’ Quitline is an important point of help for New Yorkers who are the most in need,” said Andrew Hyland, Ph.D., chair, department of health behavior at Roswell Park. “Most people who contact the Quitline are people with lower income or are uninsured or underinsured, and there’s no charge for anyone who uses our services. They may not have a doctor, and for many, the Quitline is a place of last resort.”
The Quitline assists people of many ages, ethnicities and economic backgrounds. The majority have used commercial tobacco products for at least 20 years, and many are people who experience mental health struggles, have physical limitations, and – despite showing signs of nicotine dependence – have a strong desire to stop smoking.
There’s a lot to gain from quitting. More than 28,000 people in New York state die from smoking or secondhand smoke every year. That loss is compounded by the financial burden of smoking: A pack of cigarettes purchased in New York state now costs $11.96 on average, adding up to a staggering $4,365 per year. The cost will rise even higher with passage of the 2023-24 New York state budget, which included a $1 increase in the cigarette excise tax. That will bring the tax to $5.35 per pack – the highest in the nation. Hyland expects the increase will motivate many people to give up commercial tobacco products for good, and that they will turn to the Quitline for help.
Through its website and TV ads, the Quitline invites smokers to get in touch with a tobacco treatment specialist via phone or text, or to chat online. Along with one-on-one services, the Quitline offers eligible people a free starter kit of nicotine replacement therapy medication; tips for getting started and staying quit; contact information for support groups around the state; connections to information about smoking-cessation assistance covered by health care professionals; and videos on such topics as nicotine and stress. Many of its online materials are available in both English and Spanish, and Certified Languages International provides translation services for additional languages.
In March 2022, the Quitline introduced a new service: Learn2QuitNY, a six-week program originally developed for cancer patients at Roswell Park that has been redesigned and expanded to accommodate all New York state residents who want to quit. Automated texts, delivered daily, help people learn and practice new, proven strategies and skills to help them quit commercial tobacco products for good – and provide an option for those who might be uncomfortable talking with someone on the phone.
All treatment is provided by tobacco treatment specialists who are certified by the international Council for Tobacco Treatment training programs; Christine Sheffer, Ph.D., director of Roswell Park’s Tobacco treatment service, serves as president of the organization.
“Dr. Sheffer has helped increase the rigor of the treatment we deliver, boosting the skill of our staff in delivering care and better allowing us to tailor services to people of diverse backgrounds and life experiences,” Hyland said.
All the specialists stay up to date with the latest science on the most effective stop-smoking strategies. Since the Quitline’s establishment in 2000, it has fielded calls from nearly 3 million New York state residents.
“People who come to the Quitline often have tried to quit several times,” Hyland said. “They say, ‘I tried the patch, I tried the pills; nothing’s working for me.’ They share that they have experienced a loved one dying of lung cancer and say, ‘I’ve seen the ads on TV, and I’m really scared.’ That’s a pretty common circumstance. So, the training is very important. Quitting tobacco is the best thing they can do for their health.”
He noted that, while all states have Quitline’s, New York is one of very few with a Quitline managed by an in-state organization; most are managed by corporate vendors.
“For us to be able to compete with them speaks to the value of our relationship with New York state – a partnership that we value – and the value of the product we’ve delivered,” Hyland said.
Comments from New York State Smokers’ Quitline participants:
√ Ron A., Buffalo: “A big part of the success was the follow-up calls from the Quitline. It was so helpful to know someone was looking out for my well-being. That encouraged me to feel good about what I was doing and to keep going.”
√ Connie L., Naples: “I called the Quitline, spoke with a specialist and received nicotine patches and nicotine gum at my doorstep a few days later. The specialists checked in with me throughout my journey, which was so helpful. They also connected me with my health care insurance for additional support, and because of that, I was able to receive an extra supply of nicotine patches.”
√ Rocky H., Utica: “The Quitline follow-up calls to check in with me felt like they were timed so well. Real people; real concern; real help and support.”
√ Mark L., Lake Placid: “The Quitline specialists discussed behavioral modification, and that changed the way I think. I now think of myself as a non-smoker as opposed to someone who’s just trying to quit smoking. The discussions I had with the specialists were personable, friendly and supportive. There was no judgment whatsoever, and their non-cookie-cutter approach was the key to my success.”