Tobacco cessation bill would save lives

Posted: 4/5/2010

A letter to the editor in Chicago Tribune:

I am writing this letter in response to the opinion piece titled "Presidential smoking = public health opportunity," (Caplan et al, April 2, 2010). The authors correctly identify a key challenge to smoking cessation: there is no one-size-fits-all medical or behavioral treatment plan for success.

However, comprehensive tobacco cessation "that is over-the-counter or prescribed medication combined with group or individual counseling" is widely regarded as the most effective strategy. People who quit smoking using a combination of medication and counseling are about 1.5 times more likely to stay smoke-free.

Fortunately, Illinois is moving closer to adopting legislation that will make this best practice a reality for more people who want to quit smoking. Recently the Illinois House of Representatives passed HB5766, a bill that would save lives and reduce health care costs in Illinois by requiring insurance coverage for smoking cessation services and medications. The Senate is expected to take up the legislation later this month.

Seventy percent of people who smoke say they want to quit, and many people make several attempts before quitting successfully. For some, the option of medication plus counseling is simply unaffordable, resulting in failed quit attempts and prolonged years of smoking, leading to lung cancer, emphysema, heart attacks and other tobacco-related disease.

When a Massachusetts health care program began offering members access to all FDA-approved smoking cessation medications and behavioral counseling, studies demonstrated a 27 percent decrease in smoking rates, 38 percent fewer hospitalizations for heart attacks and 17 percent fewer visits to the emergency room for asthma symptoms. The economic benefit associated with such health improvements is substantial, particularly in Illinois, where smoking-related health care costs and lost productivity total an estimated $8.45 billion annually.

Illinois need not wait for the nation to change the status quo in tobacco control. This public health opportunity is on our doorstep, and Illinois should act now to require insurance coverage of tobacco cessation counseling, over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapies and/or prescription medications. Doing so will reduce smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke, and will dramatically decrease tobacco-related health care costs.

-- Robert Cohen, Chair, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Cook County Health and Hospital System, Chicago

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