People under 21 can quit tobacco with free resources from the Washington Department of Health

Uninsured and under-insured Washingtonians can receive 8-week nicotine replacement therapy kits while supplies last
Juul e-cigarette packets on shelf

The Washington Department of Health is helping those who are now under-aged tobacco and vapor product users quit by offering free resources.

It is now illegal to sell tobacco and vapor products to anyone under the age of 21 due to House Bill 1074. The bill was backed with strong bipartisan support. Gov. Jay Inslee signed HB 1074 on April 5, 2019 and it went into effect on January 1, 2020.

According to a bill report, “raising the age of sale is the single most important policy to impact the health of youth.” The report highlights that one in six 10th graders smoke or use vapor products. It also states, “most teens get tobacco and vapor products from social sources and from those who are age 18 to 20.” The passage of HB 1074, according to the report, cuts off the source for teens and young adults.

The bill also makes an argument against raising the age to just 19, rather than 21. The report claims the 21 age limit is four times more effective in reducing overall tobacco and vapor product usage.  The report stating, “give kids the freedom to not be addicted to nicotine.” For the teens or young adults that have already become addicted, Washington DOH offers many interactive and user-specific resources.

The Tobacco and Vapor Product Prevention and Control Program, one of the many Washington Department of Health (DOH) programs, has several tobacco cessation resources that are free to the public.

One of the newest cessation programs is a free, research based smartphone app. Users can download the app for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Program users will receive coaching from experts to better help them kick the habit. In accordance with the the Smoking and Tobacco app, 18 to 20-year-olds, regardless of insurance status, can get free nicotine replacement therapy tobacco cessation kits. The kits include nicotine patches and instructions for use. People can use the kits along with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. The therapy offers advice on how to use the patches and what doses would be best for them. While supplies last, DOH is offering free, 8-week cessation kits.

Nick Fradkin, a DOH Tobacco Cessation Consultant, says the department is excited to help users quit through the app, quitline coaching and increased nicotine therapy – which is brand new to the department.

“In the kits, they put the transdermal patch on once a day,” Fradkin said, “the quit coaches of the quitline will actually walk them through how to use them which is important.”

Fradkin says users of the cessation kits never want to cut a nicotine patch in half and should listen to the coaches’ advice on the quitline.

Quitlines are phone-based tobacco cessation services, available at no cost to US residents formed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 1-800-QUIT-NOW is a toll-free number operated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) that connects called directly to their state’s tobacco quitline. Washingtonians interested in the 8-week cessation kits offered by the DOH will be able to talk to quitline coaches.

“It’s exciting to be able to offer that at such a critical moment when, you know, teen and young adult vaping is on the rise,” Fradkin said.

DOH has always been able to offer 2-week cessation kits to anyone over the age of 17. Fradkin says the new law made the department wanted to promote the kits and quitline to under-aged users more.

Another program through DOH, SmokefreeTXT, a text-messaging based approach, is also available. If someone would like to sign up for the messages, they just need to text “QUIT” to 47848 and guided messages will offer advice, tips and encouragement. Another resource offered to anyone, but geared toward young adults and teens, is This Is Quitting. Those interested can text “DITCHJUUL” to 88709 to get similar help through slips, stresses and even cravings.

Fradkin says there isn’t much clinical guidance on how to quit vapor products but the Washington State Tobacco Quitline has developed their own guidelines to help users. The guidelines are used in Washington and other states with quitlines.

The 8-week cessation kits are only offered while supplies last. After that, DOH will still offer 2-week cessation kits to those who need them.

“The two week starter kit is something,” Fradkin says, “it is important to be able to get those folks on that medication early as they get ready to quit smoking or vaping. It’be nice to be able to offer that for free and we would like to be able to offer more.”

Fradkin says the clinical recommendation for cessation kits is 12-weeks of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). He clarifies that not all insurance carriers offer or cover 12-weeks of the therapy but they will typically cover 8-weeks. The free DOH kits primarily go to those who are uninsured or under-insured.

“So if you don’t have insurance, we’ve got you covered,” Fradkin said.

According to DOH, quitting an addictive drug is a great way to improve your health. The DOH website states nicotine is extremely addictive and compares its addictive qualities to those of cocaine and says it those qualities are also comparable to heroin. These factors make quitting difficult for users.

“Nicotine is an addiction,” Fradkin said, “It is a substance abuse issue and it should be treated as such. The sooner you quit, the longer you statistically live. You are saving yourself.”

In a HB 1074 report, “the younger someone is when they start using tobacco, the greater the impact on brain development and the harder it is to quit.” DOH says the more times someone tries to quit though, the more likely they will be successful on the next try.

The new law did not put any funding toward state tobacco cessation for younger users. The DOH receives funding and grants from the CDC.

“We don’t have state funding for tobacco cessation specifically,” Fradkin said.

The department’s federal funding ends in June but they are applying for more grants and Fradkin expects their funding to be renewed.

Fradkin says he hopes there are no unintended consequences of the new policies, like young vapor product users or anyone switching back to combustible cigarettes or “any other tobacco products for that matter.” He says the department will continue pushing for tobacco cessation and treatment of addiction.

“Everyone can literally use this hotline,” Fradkin said. The Washington state tobacco quitline will reach its 20th anniversary in November. Fradkin says they will to help those who need it and others can do their part too. He encourages people to ask their doctors about cessation or treatment.

“There is no shame in asking,” Fradkin said.

People who are now under-aged can also speak to their medical providers and see if insurance carriers can reimburse for cessation counseling. Fradkin says doctors should also ask their patients about tobacco use and make them aware of treatment. Fradkin says if doctors or insurance companies can’t help, the Washington state tobacco quitline is there.