Quitlines: 10 Million Calls and Counting

Joseph quit with the Quit Line's help
Joseph, above, quit smoking with help from the Wisconsin Tobacco Quit Line and support from his friends and colleagues. 

Since 2004, the National Network of Tobacco Cessation Quitlines has received more than 10 million calls, reaching half a million people who smoke per year and, according to a new paper in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, can still reach even more.

Quitlines have proved to be an invaluable evidence-based resource for anyone looking to stop smoking. According to the 2008 United States Public Health Service Clinical Practice Guideline: Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence, counseling provided by quitlines boosts long term quit rates by 60 percent when compared to self-help or little-to-no counseling.

More importantly, however, is just how few barriers there are to using a quitline: no need to travel, no need for healthcare and no cost to the prospective quitter means it is accessible to at-risk groups that normally would not have many options.

Evolving technology is only making that access easier; Fax referral has recently been replaced by electronic health record-based referral methods (also called e-referral), which can triple the amount of quitline referrals.

Media campaigns also play a massive role in making sure that those who need access to a quitline can know that it is always an option. Targeted campaigns towards high-risk groups raise awareness and have been shown to increase quitline calls.

Despite their effectiveness, quitlines only reach about one percent of people who smoke in the United States. Luckily, the means of increasing quitline reach are not only known but also readily achievable.

Funding, primarily state funding, has been shown to have a huge impact on quitline use. When funding is high, there are more calls and more quitters; when funding is low, the exact opposite.

“Quitlines have proven to be among the most effective ways to reach millions of people who smoke across America,” said Dr. Michael Fiore, UW-CTRI director and one of the paper’s authors along with UW-CTRI Research Director Dr. Tim Baker.

“With greater support from federal and state governments, even more individuals who smoke can be reached by quitlines, expanding their population-wide impact and driving smoking rates down.”

Fiore MC, Baker TB. (2021) Quitline Commentary: 10 Million Calls and Counting: Progress and Promise of Tobacco Quitlines in the United States. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Volume 60, Issue 3, Supplement 2, S99-S102, March 01, 2021.