N.H. hopes to help tobacco users kick the habit 2015

Last modified: Wednesday, December 31, 2014
If your New Year’s resolution is to quit smoking, the state wants you to give them a call.

Part of a long-term effort to curb tobacco use among residents, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services is offering free nicotine patches – among other cessation resources – through its state tobacco hotline, 1-800-QUIT-NOW (or 1-800-784-8669). To qualify for the free patches, the state has a few requirements: You must be an adult and “ready to quit within 30 days,” and you need to be willing to participate in free phone counseling and screening. Those who use chew or dip tobacco, as opposed to cigarettes, are also eligible for the program.

The state cannot use funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which funds some elements of its tobacco prevention programs, toward nicotine replacement products, said Bureau of Public Health Systems, Policy and Performance Chief Marcella Bobinsky. New Hampshire authorized up to $250,000 in general funds toward its contract for the tobacco prevention programs – nicotine replacement patches and “behavioral change counseling” – for 2014 and 2015, according to a contract approved by the Executive Council in August 2013.

This is the third time the state has offered free nicotine patches. The first time it did so, between July and December 2011, 975 residents contacted the helpline and the state gave away 787 patch kits – resulting in a quit rate of 22.6 percent, according to the department.

The second time, between December 2013 and March 2014, the state added the stipulation for participation in counseling – which, it says, is why it gave away fewer patches during that round. That second campaign saw 1,243 calls from residents and distributed 492 patches, for a quit rate of 29.1 percent, according to the department.

Overall, the state says some 2,049 people called the helpline between July 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014. In addition to the free nicotine patch campaigns, the helpline offers additional coaching and resources for people who want to quit tobacco.

The helpline, according to a recorded greeting that played when contacted yesterday, is staffed from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays. If someone is unavailable immediately, callers have the option to leave a voice mail for follow-up, and Spanish speakers also have the option of accessing services in their language when calling.

As it stands, the counseling the state offers to residents is provided by Certified Tobacco Treatment Counselors through the University of Massachusetts Medical School. The counselors must complete at least 1,000 training hours before interacting with clients, according to the department.

In recent years, the state has attempted to tackle tobacco cessation on multiple fronts. Its main website for these prevention efforts is trytostopnh.org – which directs people to “Quit Plans” and offers other advice to curb the habit – but there’s also a special portal for health care providers looking to broach the subject with patients, QuitworksNH.org.

Then there’s the “Dear Me” program, in which the state invited residents to write letters to themselves about quitting tobacco use. Some of the responses – posted online at ttsnh.wordpress.com – point to family, health and financial concerns, among others, as justification for quitting.

“In order to conquer this disease called tobacco dependence, you really do need multiple therapies to come at it, whether it’s a medical (approach), the nicotine patch or counseling,” Bobinsky said. “When the state brings multiple layers to bear, people are more likely to quit smoking.”

As the state looks to future prevention efforts, Bobinsky said officials are increasingly concerned about the popularity of electronic cigarettes (also referred to as “e-cigarettes” or “electronic nicotine delivery systems,” the act of smoking them is sometimes called “vaping”). Bobinsky said plans are in the works to introduce a policy that would extend the state’s indoor smoking ban to e-cigarettes.

The state wants to cut back on tobacco use among all residents, Bobinksy said, but it is particularly concerned with two populations: young people and expectant mothers. Ideally, she said, the state wants to keep teenagers from developing a habit early on in life that would become increasingly difficult to break as they get older. And according to the most recently available records compiled by the department, Bobinsky said 15 percent of expectant women in New Hampshire reported smoking during their pregnancies. About 32 percent of pregnant teens reported the same, she added, and the state estimated that it spends about $2.3 million per year for smoking-related neonatal care.

(Casey McDermott can be reached at 369-3306 or cmcdermott@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @caseymcdermott.)