Telephone counseling for smokers focus of $1.3 million grant

People seeking help to quit smoking have many options, from support groups to nicotine replacement to prescription drugs designed to lessen the urge to light up. Now Washington University researchers and BJC HealthCare are testing another one: telephone counseling.

WUSTL and BJC will provide new help for smokers who want to quit.
WUSTL and BJC will provide new help for smokers who want to quit.

The Call-2-Quit project, funded by a three-year, $1.35 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will compare two approaches to smoking cessation telephone counseling. Both interventions include discussion of key tasks for quitting smoking, but they differ in counseling style and in the range of topics that are covered.

Over the course of several weeks, those who call for phone counseling will participate in seven sessions with trained smoking cessation counselors to learn about methods that may help them stay away from cigarettes.

“We want to provide state-of-the-art counseling,” says psychologist Mark S. Walker, Ph.D., instructor of medicine in Washington University’s Division of Health Behavior Research and the study’s principal investigator. “The program will vary from person to person, but all callers will receive information about key topics, including avoiding temptation, use of nicotine replacement therapy and overcoming barriers to quitting.”

The study will involve employees of BJC HealthCare who are participating in an initiative called Help for Your Health, which was launched two years ago to improve the health of BJC’s 26,000 employees.

“BJC HealthCare is committed to helping our employees take charge of their health. Decreasing the incidence of smoking is one of the fastest ways to improving health,” according to Steven Lipstein, President and CEO of BJC HealthCare. “Participation in the Call-2-Quit study is one of several initiatives where BJC is taking an active role to address the deadly habit of tobacco use.”

“As part of the program, we encourage employees to participate in a health risk assessment, sign a pledge to take care of themselves and, if they are a smoker, to enroll in a smoking cessation program,” says Kathleen A. Killion, executive director for Health Literacy at BJC HealthCare. “Employees who take those steps can receive a discount in their monthly medical premiums.”

Call-2-Quit is one of several smoking cessation programs available to BJC employees. Walker, who also does smoking cessation research with lung cancer patients through Siteman Cancer Center, says it’s important to have numerous options because quitting smoking is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.

“There are common elements in effective smoking cessation programs, such as setting a quit date and learning to cope with urges after you quit, but there are many ways to stop smoking,” Walker says. “This program was developed because we know there are people who would find it convenient to talk to someone over the telephone for help. We’ve reviewed telephone interventions from around the country and have brought together the best ideas from all of them.”

Walker and colleagues will evaluate the effectiveness of the telephone intervention, based on how many people report they’ve stopped or significantly cut down smoking. Meanwhile, participants will have incentives from their employer to give it their best shot.

The telephone-counseling program is being launched this month, and if successful, will be shared with other businesses in the St. Louis area.

Washington University School of Medicine’s full-time and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked second in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

BJC HealthCare is one of the largest nonprofit healthcare organizations in the United States, delivering services to residents primarily in the greater St. Louis, southern Illinois and mid-Missouri regions. With nearly 25,000 employees, BJC serves urban, suburban and rural communities and includes 13 hospitals and multiple community health locations. Services include inpatient and outpatient care, primary care, community health and wellness, workplace health, home health, community mental health, rehabilitation, long-term care and hospice.