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DHS news release

December 20, 2004


Contact: Bonnie Widerburg, (503) 731-4180


Oregon's nicotine patch giveaway pilot project concludes after assisting about 6,000 users

Oregon's pilot project to help tobacco users quit by providing a starter kit of two weeks worth of free nicotine patches has come to a successful completion, officials in the Oregon Department of Human Services' Tobacco Prevention and Education Program said today.


The pilot project, launched on Oct. 5, was one of the first of its kind in the nation. It was originally scheduled to run until June 2005, but demand quickly exceeded supplies.


"Since the October launch, the Oregon Tobacco Quit Line has received more than 10,000 calls, 20 times its normal volume," said Mel Kohn, M.D., state epidemiologist at DHS. "DHS was able to assist about 6,000 tobacco users and distribute more than 56,000 patches."


Kohn said the response to the patch giveaway shows most Oregonians who use tobacco want to quit and that they need more assistance to succeed. He added that the next step is to track and evaluate the results of the pilot project to determine how many people successfully quit using tobacco through nicotine replacement therapy. An evaluation report is scheduled for release spring 2005.


"We are excited by the initial response because quitting saves lives and money," said Kohn.


Medical experts say nicotine replacement therapy, such as the patch, can greatly increase the probability that a smoker or chewer will quit. Patches gradually reduce the amount of nicotine in the blood stream to help people successfully stop nicotine addiction.


The pilot project, funded with voter-approved tobacco taxes, provided tobacco users with two weeks of free nicotine patches. Health care insurers were encouraged to provide the remaining six weeks' supply of patches needed for the eight-week treatment period. Several public/private partnerships with health insurers were developed through the project.


"Providence Health System, PacifiCare and three of the health plans serving Oregon Health Plan clients, in particular, really stepped up to the plate and made it easier for their members to obtain nicotine patches," said Kohn. "Providing cessation support is more cost-effective than paying for the treatment of tobacco-related disease. Yet, about 350,000 Oregon smokers do not have cessation benefits covered in their health plans."


Tobacco use costs Oregonians about $1.8 billion a year in direct costs of medical care and indirect costs due to illness, disability and death.


While nicotine replacement patches are no longer free to all callers, they will be made available to uninsured Oregonians for a limited time, as well as to people on some insurance plans. Quit Line personnel will help callers find out if they are still eligible.


The toll-free Oregon Tobacco Quit line provides free service to all Oregonians. To talk to a cessation counselor, call 1-877-270-STOP (7867) or 1-877-2 NO FUME (66-3863) for Hispanic callers. Cessation specialists are available seven days a week from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.