Wednesday, September 22, 2010

ActionToQuit Tobacco Cessation Summit in Virginia

Partnership for Prevention’s first ActionToQuit state summit was held on September 21 in Richmond, Virginia. The event brought together some sixty organizational representatives, leaders, and advocates committed to saving lives and improving health through tobacco cessation.

Over one million Virginians are current smokers, and 60% of them attempted to quit in the past year. This decade the smoking rate in the state declined steadily, while the quit attempt rate increased. The tobacco control community has given first priority to tax increases and smoke free public places, and many successes have been realized. But policy and system changes to advance tobacco cessation have not kept pace. Because of this, many people who want to quit have not had access to treatments that have been proven to work.

This summit was an outstanding example of state leaders coming together to solve a problem, in this case a deadly problem. If advocates are serious about significantly decreasing the smoking rate and its corresponding mortality, then change must occur. That’s why discussions centered on: 

  • expanding Medicaid coverage in Virginia for tobacco cessation
  • working with hospitals and health centers to routinely identify and treat tobacco users 
  • urging all employers and private health plans to offer coverage 
  • securing additional funding for the Virginia telephone quitline  
  • convincing thought leaders and elected officials that cessation treatments are high value, saving lives and money  
One other central theme at the summit was the need for expansion of cessation services to the behavioral health/mental health community, which has a smoking rate much higher than the national average. In fact, though this group only accounts for 22% of the U.S. population, they consume 44% of the nation’s cigarettes. This prime audience has long been ignored for fear that treating their tobacco addiction would interfere with other treatments. People with serious behavioral health disorders on average die 25 years earlier than the general population, in great measure because of the high smoking rate.

Virginia was the first summit held in ActionToQuit funded states. The other summits, in Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New England, and New York, will be held in the coming month. The Virginia summit was sponsored by the Virginia Partnership for Tobacco Cessation, whose four organizational members are: Prevention Connections, the American Cancer Society, the Alliance for the Prevention and Treatment of Nicotine Addiction, and Partnership for Prevention.

David Zauche
Senior Program Officer
Partnership for Prevention


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