Tobacco Helpline sees major increase in calls

There are a myriad of reasons to quit smoking. One of the most effective is the almighty dollar.

On July 1, Oklahomans started paying a dollar more per pack of cigarettes. It was all part of the historic tax package passed by the legislature meant to fund teacher pay raises among other things.

Back when the tax first went into effect, many smokers told us it just might be the reason to quit.

“It’s going to be a problem. I won’t like to pay the extra money,” said Tony Muhs.

“It was about time to quit. I didn’t like it,” said Barry Reynolds.

“I know I’m going to quit,” said Don Ingram.

And, now, there’s some proof many Oklahomans are following through with that.

“It’s phenomenal. We’re excited for those individuals,” said John Woods, executive director of the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust.

The Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline is a program of TSET.

In July of 2017, 2,300 people called the helpline.

In July of 2018, the month the tax hike went into effect, 4,200 Oklahomans called. That’s an 85 percent increase.

“We knew it was coming. We knew, with that price increase, that we would see increased call volume,” Woods said.

TSET increased their advertising in anticipation and also adjusted the contract with their provider for counseling services. And, they expect the trend to continue.

“We know that price point affects the purchasing decision of cigarettes, and it really triggers individuals’ desire to quit and so it’s a great opportunity whenever you’re having to pay more to go ahead and make that decision,” Woods said.

Research shows it takes smokers six or seven times of trying to finally get it right.

On average, 30 percent of the 4,200 who called this month will end up kicking the habit for good.

The helpline is 1-800-QUITNOW. Smokers can call twice a year for the free help that includes coaching and free patches, gum or lozenges.

Some tobacco retailers we spoke with said, so far, they have not seen a dip in sales, just a shift in how smokers are spending their money. They’re selling more of the cheap brands now and less of the premium.