Health Care

NC offers free nicotine replacement therapy to smokers who want to quit

North Carolina residents who want to quit smoking have access to free nicotine patches and similar resources for a limited time through a program from the state health department.

Tobacco users are eligible to receive up to eight weeks of free nicotine replacement therapy, including nicotine patches, gum or lozenges, if they enroll in a coaching plan through QuitlineNC, the state’s free phone and online service for residents who want to quit using tobacco.

Since the state launched Quitline in 2005, about 78,000 people have used it to register with counselors who can help them quit. Last year, the state supplied free replacement therapies to more than 23,000 residents, in part to draw attention to the program.

“We saw a really dramatic increase of the number of people who took advantage of the Quitline,” said Julie Henry, spokeswoman for the Department of Human Health and Services. “It’s something that has been available, and it is a valuable resource for people who want to quit smoking.”

State Health Director Dr. Laura Gerald estimated that 7,000 of those participants completed a full eight weeks of tobacco replacement therapy and a four-call coaching plan.

People who call the Quitline alone have quit rates of about 30 percent, while people who combine Quitline counseling with replacement therapies have quit rates of about 42 percent, Gerald said. People who complete a four-call program and go through with eight weeks of nicotine replacement therapy have the most success, with quit rates of more than 50 percent.

“There are a lot of people under the misconception that you can just stop cold turkey and that you should just have willpower, but there’s just not good evidence that people who quit cold turkey are successful,” Gerald said. “If you call the Quitline, it’s really about the best chance at quitting tobacco, a very tough thing to do.”

Last year, the state found that talking to a Quitline counselor can help people make better use of nicotine replacement therapies and clear up misconceptions, said Henry. For example, many people take off nicotine patches when they go to sleep, which they’re not supposed to, she said.

Generic nicotine patches cost between $104 and $200 without insurance, Gerald said, and they are the cheapest of the three replacement therapy options.

Some insurance plans cover nicotine replacement therapy, so insurance will pay for Quitline callers when applicable. The N.C. Office of Rural Health and Community Care provided $100,000 to pay for up to eight weeks of therapy for people with no insurance who do not qualify for Medicare or Medicaid. The state is providing $600,000.

The giveaway program helps raise awareness of the Quitline, Henry said, and helps people with insurance learn about resources already available through their own plans.

“The idea is that we’re trying to remove the barriers by making this available,” Henry said.

About 21 percent of North Carolina adults smoke cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.