Metro-East News

State plans to restore funding for Illinois Tobacco Quitline

Funding for the Illinois Tobacco Quitline will be restored, state officials say, though as of Tuesday the tobacco hotline was still shut down.

The Quitline is funded by grants from the national tobacco master settlement in 2001 and operated at 866-QUIT-YES. It provided phone counseling to people trying to quit smoking, as well as free cessation aids such as nicotine patches and gum to those who met income guidelines. Patients had to call in at least once a week to report their progress and received personal counseling from respiratory therapists, nurses and treatment counselors, and the patches and gum were provided by mail in gradually decreasing dosages to wean them slowly off of nicotine.

The Quitline received about 90,000 calls in 2014, about 25 percent of which came from Medicaid recipients. It was shut down in April as part of the state’s budget cuts, but the Illinois House of Representatives then voted to restore the $26 million in grant funding. Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office announced it will approve the restoration due to unexpected revenue.

The American Cancer Society’s political action network, ACS CAN, applauded Rauner for restoring the funding. Heather Eagleton, Illinois government relations director for ACS CAN, said the Quitline actually saves the state money because it is funded through the tobacco settlement, while taxpayers pay nearly $1 billion each year in tobacco-related Medicaid costs and 16,600 Illinois residents died of tobacco-related illnesses last year.

As of Tuesday, the hotline is still shut down, with a recording informing callers that funding had been cut. Eagleton said if the Quitline had not been restored, Illinois would have been the only state in the nation without one.

“We look forward to seeing this free, effective resource continue to help people break their tobacco addiction,” Eagleton said.

Eagleton said they expect the Quitline to resume services at noon Wednesday.

Most area hospitals and health departments reported that they didn’t have an immediate replacement for the Quitline, because they have relied on it for nearly 15 years for any patient trying to quit smoking.

From the Madison County Health Department to Anderson Hospital to Memorial Hospital in Belleville, hospital officials said they have sent their patients to the Quitline for years and have few resources of their own to offer, other than telling patients to look online for information.

“Of course we offer patient education to patients as they are hospitalized for issues exacerbated by their smoking,” said Anderson spokeswoman Natalie Head, but there is no phone help line or support group at the hospital. “We relied on the Quitline as a resource.”

Gateway Regional Medical Center is in the same predicament, according to spokeswoman Erin Echelmeyer. “We do not have another local resource that I am aware of,” she said. Like other hospitals, they provide cessation assistance to patients while they’re in the hospital, but cannot provide further help after discharge, Echelmeyer said.

Memorial Hospital in Belleville also referred all patients to the Quitline. Spokeswoman Blair Sartory Glauber said they planned to refer patients to the St. Clair County Health Department. St. Elizabeth’s referred patients to the American Lung Association’s website, according to spokeswoman Kelly Barbeau.

Meanwhile, the St. Clair County Health Department was referring clients to smokefree.gov, where patients can enroll in a texting service to provide encouragement and advice to smokers trying to quit.

On a national level, the American Lung Association provides a hotline at 800-LUNG-USA. Spokesman James Martinez said there are many resources online, and the ALA partners with Freedom From Smoking, which is a support group that can be conducted online or as a group in eight sessions to develop and stick to a plan for quitting smoking. Memorial Hospital offers Freedom From Smoking once a year, Glauber said.

The federal government also offers phone counseling at 800-QUIT-NOW, which provides one 20-minute cessation counseling session.

The American Lung Association estimates nearly 40 percent of tobacco users try to quit each year, but most fail without assistance.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at edonald@bnd.com or 618-239-2507.

Online Resources for Quitting Smoking

American Lung Association: www.lung.org/stop-smoking

Smokefree.gov: www.smokefree.gov or 800-QUIT-NOW

American Cancer Society: www.cancer.org/healthy/stayawayfromtobacco/guidetoquittingsmoking/index

Centers for Disease Control: www.cdc.gov/tobacco/quit_smoking

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