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Effective Tobacco Cessation Strategies

Kim Richter

April 10, 2020

Nearly half a million deaths per year in the U.S. are caused by tobacco use, and one-third of all cancer deaths is caused by smoking. Quitting smoking is one of the best ways to reduce your risks for getting cancer. But even after a cancer diagnosis, quitting smoking helps in many ways to improve your treatment response, reduce future cancer risk, and improve your quality of life. If you have already tried to quit and not yet found success, you are still ahead of the game.

“The more attempts you make to quit, the more likely you are to quit,” said Kim Richter, PhD, MPH, a researcher with The University of Kansas Cancer Center and director of the University of Kansas Health System's UKanQuit tobacco cessation program. “I think that smokers occasionally feel like they're weak-willed, that they're not able to stop, but really they're tremendously successful people who manage very complicated lives—they just have that ‘monkey on their backs’ on top of everything else—and it’s hard to take it on.”

There are a lot of effective tools to help smokers quit, and many are available to the public for little to no cost. According to Dr. Richter, the most effective method involves combining medication and some sort of support.

The more attempts you make to quit, the more likely you are to quit. Kim Richter, PhD, MPH

“Most smokers don’t realize—if they have any kind of health plan they probably have great coverage for quit-smoking medications and counseling—with absolutely no co-pays or pre-authorizations,” Dr. Richter said. “This includes private insurance, Medicaid, Medicare and the VA. In addition, federally-qualified health clinics are very good at connecting people with pharmacy assistance programs. If you don’t have health coverage, you can get medications this way as well. ‘Free’ coverage of effective preventive services, like medications and counseling for tobacco dependence, was mandated for all new private health plans by the Affordable Care Act of 2014.”

If you’re looking to quit, here are a few places to get help:

  • Tobacco Cessation Quitline – 1-800-QUIT-NOW is a toll-free number operated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) that will connect you directly to your state’s tobacco quitline. You may also visit to enroll online.
  • Text messaging to help you quit OR to help you take small steps toward quitting,  text “QUIT” to 47848 or sign up online here.
  • – This website from the NCI includes an incredible number of tools to help you quit, including those targeted to specific groups, such as veterans, women, teens, Spanish speakers and those over 60. You can chat online with an NCI expert who can start you on the path to quitting, download smoke-free apps, build your own quitting plan and more.

Regardless of your path, making the choice to quit tobacco will be the single most important decision you can make in your life today. “If you quit smoking, you reduce your risk of getting cancer by a lot,” Dr. Richter said. “It’s so important to keep at it.”

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