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HHS Initiative to Fund Smoking Cessation Quitlines Is Good First Step That Should Be Part of More Comprehensive Effort

Statement of William V. Corr Executive Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
February 04, 2004

Washington, DC — Today’s announcement that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will help fund a national network of smoking cessation telephone quitlines is a good first step in what should be a comprehensive national initiative to help smokers quit. Quitlines are an effective resource for smokers who want to quit. However, the impact of today’s announcement will depend on the details and the follow-up. When will the quitline initiative be implemented? Will it be properly funded and sustained over time? Will it be accessible to all smokers and supported by other elements of an effective smoking cessation program, including a paid media campaign to encourage smokers to quit and affordable access to smoking cessation medication and counseling? In addition, this effort should not reduce funding for other health prevention programs. We should not be robbing Peter to pay Paul.

We urge the Administration to fund and implement a comprehensive, national smoking cessation program by fully adopting the recommendations of an HHS expert advisory committee that last year recommended increasing the federal cigarette tax by $2 per pack and using at least half the revenue for smoking cessation initiatives. The committee’s recommendations included 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. Increasing the cigarette tax is also 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 and aggressive 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.

As HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said today, “The combination of lives lost and the cost of treating smoking-related diseases makes our investment in smoking cessation services imperative.” Secretary Thompson is absolutely right. We urge the Administration to follow through on its stated commitment by fully adopting and implementing the recommendations of its expert committee on smoking cessation.

(The HHS press release can be found at http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2004pres/20040203.html.)