The giveaway is funded by a $503,810 grant from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and is part of the CDC “Tips from Former Smokers” campaign which targets current smokers with information on the dangers of smoking and provides resources for quitting.
By calling the state’s 800-QUIT-NOW number, residents can request up to eight weeks of free nicotine replacement products. The giveaway ends September 30, 2019.
DHHS spokesperson Lynn Sutfin says 5,444 people called the quit line in 2018 and she expects similar participation this year, even with the giveaway. Sutfin says the program is about more than just providing free products.
“The enrollees receive personalized advice on how to quit, information on medications, and assistance with choosing a quit date and creating a quit plan,” said Sutfin. Participants are also referred to community support groups.
This is not the first time a state is offering a nicotine replacement giveaway. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have publicly funded quit lines, and some have offered nicotine replacement products, says Stephen Babb, a public health analyst with the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health.
“Most states publicize the fact that callers can obtain free NRT, usually the nicotine patch, gum, and/or lozenge, to at least some callers,” said Babb. “But states vary in how often they do this, how long they do this, and the publicity methods they use.”
The giveaways increase people’s interest in cessation, says Babb.
“Whenever states run promotions for free nicotine replacement therapies, the number of calls to their state quit lines increases substantially,” said Babb. “The increase in calls to the Michigan quit line that occurred last week [June 20] was exceptionally large.”
Results are mixed on the effectiveness of NRT. A 2012 study by the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and the University of Massachusetts found the use of patches, gum, and lozenges had limited long-term effectiveness, regardless of whether professional counseling was involved.
“This study shows that using NRT is no more effective in helping people stop smoking cigarettes in the long-term than trying to quit on one’s own,” stated lead author Hillel Alpert in a news release.
The CDC has found the cessation therapies do work, says Babb.
“We know from the 2008 Public Health Service Clinical Practice Guideline that individual, group, and telephone counseling and seven medications that have been approved for smoking cessation by FDA are each independently effective in increasing quit rates,” said Babb. “We also know that cessation counseling and medication are even more effective when used together. And we know from existing literature and state experience, including Michigan’s own experience this past week, that quit line promotions of free nicotine replacement therapy are effective in increasing call volume.”
The quit lines use trained coaches to help callers determine which cessation medication might work best and how to use the products, says Babb.
Recommends Including Other Options
Government policy toward smoking cessation is biased in favor of big pharma, says Lindsey Stroud, a government relations coordinator at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Health Care News. Stroud is a coauthor of Vaping, E-Cigarettes, and Public Policy Toward Alternatives to Smoking.
“The states and federal government subsidize pharma, yet all the research indicates that e-cigarettes and vaping devices are a better tool for smoking cessation,” said Stroud. “Yet, people who try to use these methods are bombarded with prohibition, regulations, and taxation at every turn from localities, states, and even the federal government. It’s very alarming that public health [organizations] promoting a ‘smoke-free’ world only offer options that are not effective at getting smokers to quit.”
This case of promoting one set of methods over another has only one good explanation, says Stroud: cronyism.
“I find it ironic that current and former FDA officials, including Mitch Zeller and Scott Gottlieb, have been paid consultants for GlaxoSmithKline, the manufacturer of Nicorette and Nicoderm,” said Stroud. “Further, Gottlieb just took a position on the board of directors for Pfizer, which manufactures Chantix.
“It seems that public health in America feels pharmaceuticals are the answer for every ailment and are anxious to prevent consumer-driven technologies from thwarting pharma’s profits,” said Stroud.
Stroud says NRT giveaway programs can get a smoker thinking about quitting, but they aren’t enough on their own.
“There may be some potential to start a conversation with smokers who may have otherwise not considered quitting smoking before,” said Stroud. “Yet NRT is not a successful quit-smoking program without additional resources, including counseling. Further, the use of e-cigarettes is significantly less expensive than NRT.
“If public health groups aim to get people to quit smoking, they should promote products that are actually successful,” said Stroud.
Andrew Whitney ([email protected])writes from Lansing, Michigan.
Hillel R. Alpert, Gregory N. Connolly, and Lois Biener, “A Prospective Cohort Study Challenging the Effectiveness of Population-based Medical Intervention for Smoking Cessation,” Tobacco Control, January 9, 2012:https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/22/1/32
Brad Rodu, Matthew Glans, and Lindsey Stroud, “Vaping, E-Cigarettes, and Public Policy Toward Alternatives to Smoking,” February 20, 2017: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/vaping-e-cigarettes-and-public-policy-toward-alternatives-to-smoking