Tobacco cessation: Supporting the Surgeon General’s goals

Smoking cessation: Supporting the Surgeon General’s goals
In January of this year, the Surgeon General released “Smoking Cessation: A Report of the Surgeon General.” It’s the first comprehensive report released on smoking cessation since 2008. It discusses important information about:

  • Patterns of smoking and smoking cessation in the U.S.
  • The immediate and long-term health benefits of smoking cessation
  • Treatments and tools that are proven to help people quit smoking
  • Updated findings on addiction and quitting smoking

It’s encouraging to note that the number of adults who smoke is at an all-time low in the U.S. Yet 34 million adults, many in vulnerable populations, still smoke and risk developing smoking-related diseases.1 And that number doesn’t account for today’s youth and their smoking and vaping habits, which the report also discusses.

The evidence related to quitlines in the new report reinforces that Optum Quit For Life® continues to be consistent with best practices based on research conducted as far back as the 1990s and new innovations in cessation treatment. The Surgeon General’s report makes it clear that quitting smoking is key to improving an individual’s health. It doesn’t matter how old or how young, or how long they’ve been smoking.

Smoking cessation treatments make it possible to quit
Quitting smoking can be very hard to do, but it’s possible. The Surgeon General and Optum recognize that cessation treatments can make all the difference. These treatments include counseling, coaching and medication.

The Surgeon General’s report encourages counseling delivered using the various delivery approaches including:

  • Group coaching
  • In-person with a health care professional
  • One-on-one with a counselor or coach
  • Interactive online cessation support
  • Text message interactions
  • Over the phone through a quitline

Optum Quit For Life® supports the Surgeon General’s mission
The Quit for Life Program serves millions of tobacco users. Since 1985, the program has offered a proven mix of physical, mental and behavioral strategies. It helps tobacco users overcome their addiction and habits, and it works: our average quit rate is 51%.

Optum tailors quit plans using a variety of tools to engage participants. These include:

  • Quit Coach® inbound and outbound calls
  • Mail-order patches, gum and lozenges
  • Program-integrated, personalized mobile app
  • Online learning community and expert-led interactive courses
  • Progress and cost-savings trackers
  • Secure email messages
  • Text2QuitSM mobile texting and helpful urge management tools

Today, with a growing number of individuals accessing the internet often through a mobile device, Optum text and web tools help support quit efforts and can help increase quit rate success. The introduction of and enhancement of these features add to the evidence base that supports the importance of digital platforms.

Reaching certain populations is a priority
Not all U.S. populations are equal when it comes to experiencing the decline in smoking. Certain groups and parts of the U.S. still smoke at high rates. As the Surgeon General states, it’s critical to help these groups avoid or cut down on tobacco use.

Optum works to educate clinicians about outreach practices to patients and referrals to quitline services. Our goal is to increase quit rates within vulnerable populations using our enhanced interventions for callers reporting behavioral health conditions, those of American Indian heritage and pregnant women.

High rates of tobacco use are still evident among certain populations, including:

  • Adults living in rural areas
  • Adults who didn’t complete high school
  • LGBTQ individuals
  • Military veterans
  • Uninsured Americans

We know that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to reaching priority populations. This is where our insights can help lower costs and improve outcomes. We serve the unique needs of a population through tailored, ongoing tactics for engagement and treatment delivery. We use deep analytics to pinpoint program design and population needs to improve smoking cessation outcomes.

What about youth smoking and vaping?
A new generation of young people is at risk for addiction to nicotine. Smoking e-cigarettes — or vaping — is an epidemic among our nation’s youth. At Optum, we’re working to protect kids from all forms of tobacco product use, including vaping.

Optum uses specific strategies to reach teens who use e-cigarettes, and we engage with their parents as well. Our scalable cessation platform empowers parents to have meaningful, no-pressure dialogue with their teens.

We’ll also deploy relevant, clinically based actions. These include digital marketing to youth, social channels for parents and other tactics that are best suited to teach youth and parents about vaping and quitting vaping.

We’ll keep working to end the tobacco epidemic
At Optum, our research team is conducting two studies to determine best practice approaches for the use of e-cigarettes as a cessation aid. We’re currently launching a phone intervention program combined with text and interactive web tools to support adults and youth who use vape devices and want to quit. Secondly, Optum is working to uncover strategies to assist parents who are concerned about their kids’ e-cigarette use.

Another new area of research for Optum is marijuana and tobacco co-use among quitline callers. Smokers who use marijuana may struggle to quit tobacco due to the interactive effects of nicotine and marijuana. A brief behavioral intervention may increase a caller’s chances of achieving and maintaining tobacco abstinence as well as increasing their motivation to reduce recreational marijuana use.

Decades of diligence and improved tools, resources and outreach are lowering the numbers of smokers. But, as the Surgeon General notes, more work needs to be done.

In addition to partnering with clients to support the development of incentive plans that will increase engagement, Optum will keep working to raise the numbers of those who quit tobacco successfully and stay quit. Along with the “Nation’s Doctor,” we believe we can help end the epidemic of tobacco-related disease and death.

To learn more about Quit For Life, visit:

About the Author

Etta ShortEtta Short, Sr. Product Manager, Program Designer, Optum

Etta Short is a Public Health professional with over 25 years of experience. Etta joined the Quit for Life Program in 2005 to establish a coach training program. In her current role Etta provides leadership for the development of behavior change aspects of tobacco cessation and lifestyle coaching programs.

Ms. Short is a member of ATTUD (Assoc.), NACQ and on the Board of Directors of the CTTTP (Council for Tobacco Treatment Training Programs). She earned an MS in Health Education from the University of Washington and she is a graduate of the Northwest Public Health Leadership Institute.


1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Smoking Cessation: A Report of the Surgeon General. 2020. Accessed February 28, 2020.

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