New Jersey Failing to Snuff Out Smokers’ Addiction

no_smokingSTATE—According to a new report, Helping Smokers Quit: State Cessation Coverage, released in November 2008 by the American Lung Association, just six states provide comprehensive cessation coverage for state employees and New Jersey is not one of them. The six states are: Alabama, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, North Dakota and New Mexico. Beyond that, 38 states cover at least some cessation medications, leaving much room for needed improvement.

“States like New Jersey are missing a big opportunity to help smokers quit and to save themselves money by covering comprehensive tobacco treatments,” said Deborah Brown, vice president of community outreach and advocacy for the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic. “Millions of dollars and countless lives could be saved each year if more smokers quit.”

Such is the case for Sandy Kline of Pa., a former smoker who kicked the habit three months ago. Kline said she was encouraged to quit smoking by her 16-year-old son and was finally able to do so with the help of a prescription pill and a smoking cessation class offered to her where she works.

“It’s still not easy even after three months, but I feel great,” said Kline, who started smoking when she was 15 years old and smoked for 30 years. Kline said she spent about $150 each month on cigarettes. She now uses the money she would have spent on smoking to go to eat, or saves it for a family vacations.

The combination of a prescription drug, the smoking cessation class (‘Freedom from Smoking,’ sponsored by the American Lung Association) and a support ‘buddy’ – someone she could talk to who would encourage her not to smoke – were all key factors in her cessation success.   “The class was very helpful,” she said. “When I could see that other people were able to quit, it really helped me to be able to do it too.”

Recent studies estimate that lifetime savings in tobacco-related health expenditures for every former smoker total more than $20,000. Furthermore, employers and insurance plans could save up to $210 per year for every covered smoker who quits. For each pregnant woman who quits smoking, there is a potential cost savings to the U.S. health care system of $881 with each premature birth prevented.

The Lung Association recommends that private insurance plans should also offer comprehensive cessation coverage and encourages states to require all insurance companies to cover these treatments. 

To date though, only eight states – including New Jersey – have enacted legislative or regulatory standards mandating private health insurance companies to provide cessation coverage. The seven other states are California, Colorado, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota and Rhode Island.

“Smoking’s devastating toll in death and suffering is well known,” said Brown. “Nearly every family has been touched by tobacco-related illness.   But what’s less known is the tremendous burden that treating these ailments places on our economy.   States cannot continue to ignore this unfortunate reality.”

The American Lung Association calls upon each state to provide all Medicaid recipients and state employees with comprehensive, easily-accessible tobacco cessation medications and counseling. The Lung Association recommends states eliminate artificial barriers such as co-pays, limits on the length of treatment and prior authorization requirements that can make it harder for smokers to get the help they need. Eliminating these barriers is critically important for people with limited incomes, because they create obstacles that greatly discourage these smokers from getting the help they need.

“Smoking is widely recognized as a disease of nicotine addiction,” said Norman Edelman, M.D., Chief Medical Officer for the American Lung Association. “Just like any other health condition, patients respond differently to various tobacco cessation treatments. Most smokers try to quit more than once and may need to try different treatments in subsequent attempts. States must make it easier for smokers to access all recommended treatments.  There is no one size fits all therapy.”

One adult in five smokes – more than 43 million Americans. “Helping smokers quit benefits us all— smokers and nonsmokers alike,” said Brown. “Unfortunately, many smokers lack access to the tools needed to help them succeed.   Providing these treatments and tools as a fully-covered, comprehensive insurance benefit increases the willingness of smokers to try to quit and improves their likelihood of success.”

Presently, only seven states provide comprehensive coverage for Medicaid recipients: Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon and Pennsylvania.   Six states do not cover cessation treatments for Medicaid recipients: Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee. Among the states that provide Medicaid coverage for tobacco cessation treatments, most impose artificial barriers to coverage including sometimes costly co-pays and limitations on the duration of treatments.

“The American Lung Association is committed to helping smokers quit,” said Brown. “We offer several free or low cost services such as our ‘Freedom From Smoking’ program that helps thousands of people quit smoking each year. Still, this is by no means a substitute for the kind of support that is urgently needed from each and every state across the country.”

Information on American Lung Association cessation services can be accessed by calling the Lung Helpline at 1-800-LUNG-USA or by visiting In addition, the new Helping Smokers Quit: State Cessation Coverage report also provides an index of cessation services and treatments offered in each state. This information can also be found at the ALA website.

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