Annals of Short-Sightedness: Washington State Cuts Off Tobacco Quitline Access to Uninsured

Yesterday, we wrote about new lung cancer screening guidelines and the overarching health benefits of smoking cessation.  In a strange twist, there is news today out of Washington state that uninsured Washingtonians will now have their access to the state’s Tobacco Quitline drastically cut.

Quitlines (1-800-QUIT-NOW) offer valuable resources to smokers who want to quit or are thinking about quitting.  Washington state legislatures cut back access to the Quitline to help balance the budget.  So beginning August 1, most uninsured smokers will get only a single call to the service.  This is short-sighted for multiple reasons.

Most smokers take multiple tries to quit for good, so a single call is unlikely to provide the support smokers need to quit.   That the highest rates of smoking are in those who are economically disadvantaged and who have lower levels of education means that groups who are most likely to benefit from Quitline services are being cut-off from them.  And, even though there is a perception that smoking is a public health issue that’s already been addressed, it remains a huge issue, and success with cessation programs are likely to provide economic productivity and health spending benefits well beyond any modest savings by cutting back Quitline services.

Economic and health disparities continue to climb in the United States, taking a toll not only on the economy but most importantly on the health of its citizens.  For a largely progressive state like Washington to cut back on an important health service to its underserved is a disturbing move that will broaden disparities rather than narrow them.

Quitting smoking at age 40 can add nearly 10 years to a smoker’s life.  Quitting at 60 can add three years.  These are years spent with family, friends, and rewarding work that every smoker should have the chance to experience equally.

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