Telephone smoker counseling focus of 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 researchers at the University and BJC HealthCare are testing another: telephone counseling.

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 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,” said psychologist Mark S. Walker, Ph.D., instructor of medicine in the 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,” said Steven Lipstein, president and chief executive officer of BJC HealthCare. “Decreasing the incidence of smoking is one of the fastest ways to improving health.

“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.”

Kathleen A. Killion, executive director for health literacy at BJC HealthCare, said: “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. 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, said it’s important to have numerous options because quitting smoking is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.

“This program was developed because we know there are people who would find it convenient to talk to someone over the telephone for help,” Walker said. “We’ve reviewed telephone interventions from around the country and have brought together the best ideas from all of them.”

Walker and his 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 launched in December, and if successful, will be shared with other St. Louis-area businesses.