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Washington's Tobacco Quitline Cuts Off the Uninsured

Julio Cortez
Associated Press

If you’re trying to quit smoking and you don’t have health insurance, it’s going to be harder to find help as of August 1. The state’s free tobacco quitline will be cutting services to the uninsured, due to budget cuts.

Those without insurance can get a little bullet-point advice from the quit counselor, but after that, they’re on their own. State Health Department spokesman Tim Church said the cutbacks will harm some of the most vulnerable.

“I have no doubt this cut has the potential to cost lives,” Church said. “Because these are going to be people who are often low-income. They're the ones who have the highest smoking rates, and they're the onse we’re going to be able to provide the least amount of help to now.”

The state cut $1.7 million in funding to the quitline, which last year paid for service to about 4,200 uninsured Washingtonians. Those people will no longer be able to do follow-up calls or get nicotine replacement therapy unless they have insurance that covers those services.

Tim Church said it’s the last piece of what was once a world-class tobacco prevention effort in Washington, which has been dismantled by budget cuts since 2009.

“All of those pieces have been stripped away. There’s no longer programs in schools funded by the state. We’re no longer providing money to help counties all around the state. There’s no longer any kind of anti-tobacco advertising. And this is essentially the final shoe to drop,” said Church.

A University of Washington studyfound last year that every dollar spent on tobacco prevention here saves five dollars in health care costs.

Quitline service was cut for the uninsured two years ago, but restored last year. It’s served more than 147,000 people since it launched in 2000, a period that coincided with a 30 percent drop in Washington’s adult smoking rates.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.