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Originally published Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 8:35 PM

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Phone line for smokers who want to quit is back in business

Washington state restored funding for its toll-free tobacco quit line this week, a year after state budget cuts stopped the program.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Washington state this week restored funding for its toll-free tobacco quit line, a year after the Legislature stopped the program as part of budget cuts.

For the past year, Washington was the only state in the country without its own hotline that offered free tobacco-cessation counseling for the uninsured and underinsured.

Since last July, people still called the quit line looking for help, but coaches assisted only those with insurance that included tobacco-cessation coverage. More than half of the 6,500 underinsured and uninsured who used the hotline asked for a return call once the state restored service.

"It was our goal to get this back because we know it helps people," said state Department of Health spokesman Tim Church. "It was incredibly important for us to get back to people who had no insurance, had no money to help themselves."

Now with $1.6 million in funding from the state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the hotline will return thousands of calls and welcome new clients looking to break the habit.

"We are really passionate about the Washington quit line," said Ryan Crawford, coach supervisor at Alere Wellbeing, a Seattle-based healthy-behaviors company running the quit line for the state and in states such as Florida, Hawaii and Oklahoma. "We see the neighborhoods people call from, and some of us are from those places, so it's good to help our fellow Washingtonians."

From 2003 to 2008, the state Tobacco Control and Prevention program used around $28 million to fund the quit line, prevention programs in schools and local health organizations, and a media campaign, Church said.

"Nicotine withdrawal is really hard. People have smoked, dipped and chewed for 40 years, so they feel naked without it," Crawford said. "They think, 'This is a part of who I am. This is the only way I can relieve stress. This is my reward.' "

To combat clients' urges, the quit-line schedules four follow-up calls. When someone first calls, a coach asks basic questions and helps set a quit date. The following calls discuss the client's current experience.

Though 30 days is a popular quitting goal, nicotine-replacement therapy takes eight weeks. The quit line provides nicotine patches, gums and lozenges after doctors at Alere screen patients. For prescription medications, the coaches send clients a form to give to their doctors.

The state quit line (1-800-QUIT-NOW and 1-877-2NO-FUME in Spanish) began in November 2000. In 11 years, it has received more than 165,000 calls.

Today in the state, 50 youths will start smoking, according to the health department. This year, 7,900 people in Washington will die from tobacco-related diseases.

Kibkabe Araya: 206-464-2266 or karaya@seattletimes.com. On Twitter@kibkabe

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