Health system lauded for efforts to help smokers quit

Nicotine patch distribution, helpline contributions cited

Posted Nov. 23, 2011

Quit smoking © iStockphotoUC Davis Health System was recognized on Wednesday, Nov. 9, for its leadership in a program that provides free nicotine patches to smokers who call a state helpline to enroll in programs aimed at helping them quit.

The Sacramento County Tobacco Control Coalition recognized health system faculty and staff, including Elisa Tong, assistant professor of internal medicine at UC Davis, Maeola Doran, operations analyst for Ambulatory Clinical Operations, and Cheryl Richards, a staff member in the Division of General Internal Medicine. Together, they spearheaded efforts targeting underserved populations in Sacramento County to distribute vouchers for patches and to build awareness of the free California Smokers' Helpline, 1-800-NO-BUTTS or 1-800-45-NO-FUME (en español).

As a result of outreach within UC Davis Health System and community clinics throughout the county since January, more than 740 smokers have called the helpline for counseling and received free patches, the highest number of all participating counties. A two-week supply of nicotine patches were offered to helpline callers, a supply designed to get smokers through the first and most difficult tobacco withdrawal period, Tong said.

Dr. Tong © UC Regents"When I have seen smokers in the clinic, offering free nicotine medication has helped stimulate their interest in quitting."
—Elisa Tong

Although it is not known how many of the callers eventually quit smoking, Tong said there is strong evidence that smokers who use both counseling from the helpline and nicotine replacement therapy, such as a patch, can double their chances of quitting for good.

Helping co-workers quit

UC Davis Health System employees in quit smoking program © UC Regents

To help celebrate the third anniversary of UC Davis Health System’s smoke-free policy, the health system hosted a “Biggest Quitter” contest for employees. While employees can attend the university’s smoking-cessation classes for free, the contest made it more convenient and fun. Attendees were invited to bring a nonsmoker employee along for support. The class completion coincided with the American Cancer Society's annual Great American Smokeout on Thursday, Nov. 17.

The eight-session lunchtime program was supported by the health system's Smoke-Free Campus Committee to promote the smoke-free policy that took effect in July 2008. The policy prohibits smoking in all outdoor areas surrounding the hospital and all other buildings on the Sacramento campus of UC Davis.

"We wanted to create a fun and positive way to remind everyone about how the policy promotes a healthier environment," said Elisa Tong, assistant professor of internal medicine and committee member. "We also wanted to help employees who smoke realize that the resources to quit are right here at work."

Sacramento County, which has a relatively high adult smoking rate, was one of five counties in California initially chosen to pilot the program. In Sacramento County, 14 percent of adults smoke, compared with less than 12 percent statewide. Certain subgroups have rates over 30 percent, such as African Americans and Native Americans. The county also has the highest urban county smoking rate in the state.

"When I have seen smokers in the clinic, offering free nicotine medication has helped stimulate their interest in quitting," Tong said. "This program also has boosted physician awareness of the California Smoker's Helpline."

In addition to the health system's clinics and hospital services, the vouchers were distributed at the Sacramento County Primary Care Center, Sacramento County Mental Health Treatment Center, CARES Clinic, Sacramento American Health Center and Willow Free Clinic.  These organizations also will be recognized by the Sacramento County Tobacco Control Coalition.

The program, which ends in December, was funded with a federal grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act:  Putting Communities Back to Work. The helpline is operated out of the cancer center at UC San Diego and funded by the California Tobacco Control Program.

UC Davis Cancer Center © UC RegentsAbout UC Davis Cancer Center
UC Davis Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute- designated center serving the Central Valley and inland Northern California, a region of more than 6 million people. Its top specialists provide compassionate, comprehensive care for more than 9,000 adults and children every year, and offer patients access to more than 150 clinical trials at any given time. Its innovative research program includes more than 280 scientists at UC Davis and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The unique partnership, the first between a major cancer center and national laboratory, has resulted in the discovery of new tools to diagnose and treat cancer. Through the Cancer Care Network, UC Davis is collaborating with a number of hospitals and clinical centers throughout the Central Valley and Northern California regions to offer the latest cancer-care services. For more information, visit