Courtesy of the office of the Surgeon General
Cover of the Surgeon General’s report on smoking cessation (Courtesy of the office of the Surgeon General)

HARTFORD, CT – A recent government report found that efforts to get people to quit smoking through cessation services works; the bad news is not enough smokers know about the services available to help them to kick the habit.

The U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams report concludes that comprehensive, barrier-free health coverage of tobacco cessation therapies and services is one of the most effective ways to continue to drive down the smoking rate and save lives.

But the report also states that two-thirds of smokers who tried to quit in the last year did not use an evidence-based cessation service and four out of nine adult smokers who saw a health professional did not receive advice to quit.

The 700-page report provides in-depth evidence regarding the role smoking cessation plays in reducing the risk of developing many negative health effects, including several cancers and notes that successfully quitting smoking can add up to a decade to a person’s life expectancy.

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the U.S. and will account for upwards of 480,000 premature deaths this year. While the smoking rate continues to trend downward, an estimated 34.2 million adults still smoke cigarettes and more than 16 million Americans live with a smoking-related disease.

The report includes scientific evidence for interventions proven to increase smoking cessation including access to FDA-approved cessation medications and counseling, regular and significant tax increases on tobacco products, the adoption of comprehensive smoke-free policies and fully funding tobacco control programs.

It found that research is uncertain whether electronic cigarettes increase smoking cessation.

“The FDA has not approved e-cigarettes as a quit smoking aid, and more research is needed on whether e-cigarettes are effective for quitting smoking and to better understand the health effects of e-cigarettes,” according to the report.

Connecticut has been singled out by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) for being one of the few states that doesn’t spend a penny on smoking cessation programs.

“We can only hope that the Surgeon General’s report helps push Connecticut lawmakers across the finish line in finally restoring much needed funding to the state’s tobacco control programs,” said Bryte Johnson, director of government relations for ACS CAN in Connecticut.

He added that Connecticut does well in so many areas, “however, we are ranked last in the nation when it comes to allocating funding to protect our kids from Big Tobacco’s targeting. Lawmakers should make a commitment to saving lives in 2020 by restoring the necessary funding to our state tobacco control programs.”

Johnson said there are programs, in place, to help those who want to stop smoking, such as the Connecticut Quit Line.

“The Quitline is a telephone help line offered free of charge that provides cessation counseling, quitting information, and provides the support need while quitting tobacco use,” Johnson said. “I encourage any interested in quitting tobacco to call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.”

Advocates for smoking cessation initiatives did praise the state when last summer it became one of the first to raise the age to 21 to purchase tobacco products.

In addition to fighting for funding for cessation programs, Johnson said ACS CAN plans to make addressing flavored tobacco products a top priority.

“For flavored tobacco legislation to have a measurable health impact and win the support of the public health community, it must prohibit the sale of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, and apply to all flavors, including mint and menthol,” Johnson said.

The Food and Drug Administration’s recently announced that it will ban fruit, candy, mint, and dessert flavors from small, cartridge-based e-cigarettes. But it doesn’t go far enough according to health and policy experts.

That’s because, they said, there are too many exceptions.

The FDA guidelines will allow “vape shops” that sell open-tank systems to continue to sell candy, mint, and fruity flavors that have hooked a new generation of tobacco users.

Convenience stores and gas stations that largely sell small, cartridge-based e-cigarettes will only be allowed to tell tobacco and menthol flavors, not the fruity flavors preferred by teens.

However, the federal guidance does not pre-empt states from regulating the sale of flavored tobacco products.

ACS CAN wants states such as Connecticut to put more teeth in the federal initiative.

The state Department of Public Health is also pushing for a ban on flavored vape products as one of its legislative initiatives for the upcoming legislative session that starts on Feb. 5.