Campaign Causes Surge In Ohio Quit Line Calls

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A graphic government campaign that offers "tips from former smokers" has caused a surge in calls to tobacco quit lines nationwide, even in states such as Ohio, where funding for cessation services has been cut in recent years.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched the $54 million television, radio, print and billboard ad campaign on March 19.
The ads include former smokers getting dressed and offering tips, including allowing extra time to put on prosthetics and a wig, and to make sure you don't catch your clothes on your tracheotomy hole.
From March 26 to April 1, 34,413 calls were made to 1-800-QUIT-NOW, operated by the North American Quitline Consortium. The week before the ad campaign began, 14,437 calls were made.
"It's well-documented in research that emotionally powerful, hard-hitting media messages … motivate smokers to quit and discourage nonsmokers from starting," said Darryl Konter, a spokesman in the CDC Office on Smoking and Health.
The ad campaign follows a failed attempt by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to require companies to print large, graphic images on tobacco-product packaging.
About 443,000 Americans die each year because of smoking-related illnesses, the CDC says.
Reduced funding has limited smoking-cessation services in Ohio and other states.
Ohioans who call 1-800-QUIT-NOW are redirected to the Ohio Quit Line.
Since July 2011, Ohio's line has served only uninsured people, pregnant women, Medicaid beneficiaries and companies and insurers that have bought into the Ohio Tobacco Collaborative.
Ohio's quit line used to be funded by a 1998 national settlement with cigarette makers. Two years ago, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the state could use that money for other purposes, cutting off the quit line's funding.
Now, the line is funded through CDC grants, and there is no way to predict how long they will last, said Mari-jean Siehl, chief of Ohio's Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation Program.
Still, Ohio's quit line has been busy in recent weeks. The day the CDC campaign was launched, there were 136 calls to the Ohio Quit Line.
In the week before the ads, the line received an average of 34 calls a day.
Siehl said her program will run out of money before the end of the year.
She said the CDC told her group that a new funding opportunity will be announced in the coming month.
"We're hopeful the (funding opportunity) would help us continue to serve the most vulnerable populations," Siehl said.
In May, the Ohio Quit Line will cover only Medicaid fee-for-services clients rather than members of Medicaid managed-care plans, she said.
The CDC's 12-week anti-smoking campaign has to compete with the $27 million the tobacco industry spends every day on marketing and promotion, Konter said.
"Based on the research we've done, we are confident this campaign will prompt 500,000 people to … call (quit lines) and 50,000 to quit," he said.
Rebecca McKinsey is a fellow in Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau.