Cancer Society criticizes changes to smoking cessation program

TRENTON – The state’s free telephone counseling service for people wishing to quit smoking will be available only to those who are uninsured or on Medicaid, according to the American Cancer Society, which criticized the decision today.

According to Blair Horner, vice president for Advocacy for the American Cancer Society of N.Y. and N.J., anti-smoking programs and services should not be restricted to certain groups.

The Department of Health and Senior Services, which oversees the program, was asked for comment, and responded with a statement that referenced limited state resources.

“In order to maximize limited state resources, the Department believes that individuals who have private insurance that covers smoking cessation should use their insurance coverage rather than limited state resources,” The Department of Health stated.

As part of wellness programs, more and more insurance companies are offering coverage for counseling, prescription drugs, and other options, the Department of Health stated.

The statement added that “The uninsured and those on Medicaid can call NJQuitline for help: 1-866-NJStops, which offers help in English and Spanish.”

Horner said that they had heard the state was citing a lack of resources. “From our view, New Jersey raises tons of money from smokers now, upwards to $1 billion, and they are not spending it to help smokers to quit,’’ he said.

Earlier this month, the Cancer Society and other groups criticized the state for not spending on anti-smoking efforts all of the money it is receiving from a multistate tobacco settlement.

“All smokers pay and the state is just taking the money and sticking it somewhere else,’’ Horner said.

The Department of Health pointed out in its statement that “New Jersey has the third lowest adult smoking rate in the nation. The rate, 14.8 percent in 2010, is significantly below the national rate of 18.4 percent.”

But Horner maintained that the state’s decision is about priorities. He said the program is “woefully underfunded,’’ was shut down temporarily earlier this summer when it ran out of money, and he said the state has a “moral obligation’’ to fund the programs adequately.

The Health Department reported that there are five quit centers: St. Barnabas in Newark and Toms River, Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, Shore Memorial, and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of N.J.

Shore Memorial’s program is limited to low-income participants in the Department’s Cancer Education and Early Detection cancer screening program, the Health Department said.

Previous coverage:

Report blasts N.J.’s efforts at smoking cessation programs

  Cancer Society criticizes changes to smoking cessation program