Cessation services offered by state's tobacco quitline drastically cut

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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Washington residents looking to snuff out their tobacco use will no longer receive full cessation aid from the state.

Beginning Thursday, the Washington State Tobacco Quitline will be stripped of nearly all its services.

Currently, Washington adults can call the quitline at 800-QUIT-NOW for some level of free support, including counseling, a personal quit plan, a "quit kit" and referrals to local resources. Some callers are also eligible for a supply of nicotine patches or gum.

But state funding for the quitline, as well as financial support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, expires today. The state expects to receive limited funding from the CDC in August, but the money will only cover a single call and doesn't pay for nicotine gum or patches, according to a news release from the Washington State Department of Health.

Since the quitline opened in 2000, more than 160,000 people have received help, according to the state.

Funding for the quitline has been in flux for several years.

In July 2011, state health officials announced the free quitline would only be available for people who had private insurance or Medicaid. The state revived the quitline last August, once again offering service to all Washington residents, regardless of insurance coverage.

The quitline costs about $1.9 million to operate each year, according to state health officials.

State health officials last year said they considered the free quitline "absolutely necessary," especially for those without health insurance.

But under the Affordable Care Act, which requires Americans to have insurance, all new health plans in Washington will be required to cover tobacco cessation help, beginning in 2014. Coverage will vary by plan.

The National Institutes of Health provides free, evidence-based information and professional assistance to help support the immediate and long-term needs of people trying to quit smoking online at http://www.smokefree.gov.