Nov. 10 2004
Washington, DC — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced today that it has established a national toll-free number, 1-800-QUITNOW (1-800-784-8669), that will serve as a single access point for smokers seeking information and assistance in quitting. Callers to the number will be routed to their state’s smoking cessation quitline or, in states that lack quitlines, to the National Cancer Institute’s quitline. States will also receive assistance in enhancing or establishing quitlines.
The new quitline network will be an important step toward helping smokers quit if it is properly funded, sustained over time and does not divert funding from other tobacco prevention programs. The quitline network will have a significant impact if it is part of a comprehensive national smoking cessation initiative that also includes a marketing campaign to encourage smokers to quit and affordable access to smoking cessation medication and counseling for all smokers. Quitlines are not effective unless smokers know about them, are motivated to quit and get the help they need when they call. It is especially critical that the Administration and Congress provide new funding for the quitline network so that funds are not diverted from other important programs such as those at the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. There will be no net benefit to the nation’s health if we rob Peter to pay Paul.
It is also critical that the Administration set forth a strategy to implement the comprehensive smoking cessation initiative recommended last year by HHS’s own expert advisory committee. The committee recommended increasing the federal cigarette tax by $2 per pack and using at least half the revenue for smoking cessation. The committee’s recommendations included a national quitline network that would provide universal access to cessation medication and counseling; a national paid media campaign encouraging smoking cessation; coverage for smoking-cessation counseling and FDA-approved medicines under federally funded health care programs including Medicare and Medicaid; increased investment in research to improve smoking cessation therapies; and training for health care providers in treating tobacco dependence. Increasing the cigarette tax is by itself a proven means of helping smokers quit and preventing children from starting to smoke. Lower-income individuals and certain ethnic and racial minorities, who are often the targets of the tobacco industry and have the highest tobacco use rates, would especially benefit from such efforts.
While the Administration previously has stated it will not support the cigarette tax increase, we urge reconsideration of this position in light of budgetary constraints and the clear need for bold action to reduce smoking and the huge toll it continues to take in health, lives and money. Tobacco use remains the nation’s leading preventable cause of death, killing more than 400,000 people and costing the nation more than $75 billion in health care bills every year. While we have made progress in reducing smoking rates, some 46 million adults still smoke, and adult smoking rates, currently at about 22 percent, are declining far too slowly to achieve the national goal of 12 percent or less by 2010 absent an aggressive national effort to help smokers quit.