May. 11 2006
Washington, DC — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval today of a new smoking cessation medication (Pfizer’s varenicline, to be marketed as Chantix) provides an important reminder to the nation’s 45 million smokers that there are a growing number of safe and effective medications, as well as telephone quitlines and counseling services, to help them quit and protect their health.
Studies have found that about 70 percent of adult smokers say they want to quit, but more than nine out of every ten smokers who try to quit without proper information and assistance start smoking again and most try several times before succeeding. Success rates increase significantly when smokers use evidence-based treatments such as physician advice, FDA-approved medications, counseling and other support. In addition to the new medication approved today, other smoking cessation medications that have been approved by the FDA as safe and effective include the nicotine patch, gum, lozenge, inhaler and nasal spray and a non-nicotine medication, bupropion SR.
Science has identified a number of effective tools to help smokers break their powerful addiction to tobacco. Now federal and state elected leaders, as well as employers, need to do their part by adequately funding tobacco prevention and cessation programs that educate and motivate smokers to quit and providing affordable access to smoking cessation medication and counseling.
Federal government: Congress and the Administration should fully fund and implement the National Action Plan for Tobacco Cessation recommended by an expert scientific advisory panel to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The plan calls for increasing the federal cigarette tax by $2 per pack and using at least half the revenue for smoking cessation initiatives including: a national quitline through which smokers could obtain cessation medication and counseling; a national paid media campaign encouraging cessation; providing 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.
Unfortunately, the only portion of this plan the Administration has implemented is a network of state quitlines. The chair of the expert panel recommended a similar plan while testifying as the U.S. Department of Justice’s expert witness on tobacco cessation in its racketeering lawsuit against the tobacco companies. But in its closing argument in June 2005, the Justice Department gutted its proposed cessation remedy by reducing funding from $130 billion over 25 years to just $10 billion over five years, which is woefully inadequate to help most smokers quit.
State and local government: At the state and local level, elected officials should fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs at minimum levels recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only four states - Maine, Colorado, Delaware and Mississippi - are meeting the CDC’s recommendations in the current fiscal year. States and localities should also continue the strong momentum in support of higher tobacco taxes and smoke-free workplace laws, which are scientifically proven to motivate smokers to quit and increase the number who succeed in doing so.
Employers: The private sector has a significant role to play as well by implementing the recent recommendations of the CEO Roundtable on Cancer, a group of corporate, political and public health leaders that has established a series of recommendations to fight cancer called the CEO Cancer Gold Standard. These recommendations include establishing and enforcing tobacco-free workplace policies; ensuring that health benefit plans include coverage at no cost for evidence-based tobacco cessation treatments (counseling and medications); and establishing workplace-based tobacco cessation initiatives. Studies have found that such initiatives save business money by reducing tobacco-related health care costs, while creating a healthier and more productive workforce.
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in our nation, claiming more than 400,000 lives and costing us more than $180 billion annually in health care bills and lost productivity. While adult smoking rates have been declining slowly in the United States, 20.9 percent of American adults still smoke, and the number of smokers is declining much too slowly to achieve the goal set by the federal government of reducing adult smoking to 12 percent or less by the year 2010. We cannot achieve this goal without a significant national commitment to helping smokers quit.