State Could End Smoker Help Line

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The state senate debated the future of the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation Thursday afternoon. Earlier this week, the House voted to defund the Foundation and assign the state’s anti-smoking efforts to the health department. Governor Strickland and some lawmakers want to use money from the landmark tobacco settlement to fund a jobs bill. The move could bring to an end the foundation’s 1-800-QUIT-NOW help line.

The foundation started its call line in 2003. People who want to quit smoking can call and speak to a counselor.

The foundation’s Ken Slenkovich says the quit line averages 6,000 calls a month; about 200 calls a day.

“The volumes have stayed fairly constant,” Slenkovich says. “But there have been spikes like the offering of free nicotine patches or news events when Peter Jennings passed away and that made the news. That drove a lot of calls.”

Slenkovich says the quit line has handled 130,000 callers. He claims the foundation has helped nearly 28,000 people kick the habit.

The people answering the phone are not in Ohio. They’re in suburban Minneapolis and work for the Denver-based National Jewish Medical and Research Center which has a contract with the Tobacco Prevention Foundation.

Callers get coaching that combined with patches, Slenkovich says, makes them much more likely to stay away from cigarettes long term.

“Just the fact that we currently have 10,000 people enrolled tells you there’s a tremendous demand for these kinds of services. 70 percent want to quit. The quit line itself dramatically increases the chances of people quitting as opposed to cold turkey,” Slenkovich says.

The foundation says there are almost 2 million Ohioans who remain hooked on tobacco. It says the state spends more than $4.5 billion tax dollars every year treating people suffering from tobacco-related illnesses