During the COVID-19 pandemic, smokers living with disease can be especially susceptible to the effects of the coronavirus, and they are expressing concern.
“COVID-19 is on the top of people’s minds and Quit Line callers are bringing up the topic during coaching calls,” said Wisconsin Tobacco Quit Line Coordinator Kate Kobinsky. “Coaches are reporting that news about the virus is motivating quit attempts, and smokers are also expressing increased stress levels.”
UW-CTRI and the Wisconsin Department of Health have teamed to reach out to adults who smoke and let them know there are resources to help. Facebook ads encourage smokers to call 800-QUIT-NOW and Instagram ads offer teens assistance to quit vaping or smoking via the Teen.Smokefree.gov website created by the National Institutes of Health.
While this is an acute and urgent health issue, Quit Line coaches are treating questions and concerns about COVID-19 the same as they treat any condition or challenge that a smoker brings up during a call—with empathy, validation of their feelings, quit tips, and nicotine-replacement medications. More than 2,000 people have called the Quit Line this year, including 385 during the quarantine in April.
UW-CTRI also partnered with Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin (GHC) to reach approximately 3,400 GHC patients who smoke with a message regarding the importance of quitting to their health, especially during a respiratory-virus pandemic. In mid-March, just as COVID-19 was rising in Wisconsin, nearly 2,100 of these messages were rapidly delivered to smokers within their electronic health record MyChart portal. This enabled patients to initiate treatment virtually.
Tobacco Cessation Outreach Specialists Hannah Wallenkamp and Katherine Coates counseled patients who responded for help, with coordination from GHC’s Maggie Steiner and UW-CTRI Researcher Mark Zehner.
More than 30 GHC patients who responded in the first couple of weeks either reported quitting or sought assistance to quit. “Every patient we help to quit matters,” said Zehner, “and there’s never been a better time to do so.”