When his daughter was only six months old, Bryce Barfield decided to quit smoking.
After more than 25 years of smoking, the Shawnee resident was done with cigarettes. If he continued to smoke, Bryce knew that could mean a shorter life and less time to spend with his baby girl. It also meant, she might be likely to smoke if he didn’t quit.
“I know how important dads are to daughters, and I wanted to be there for my daughter as she grew up,” Barfield said. “I knew very well that if I didn’t quit smoking, I wasn’t going to make it. Being there as a healthy dad was the biggest thing on my mind. I knew I needed all the support I could get. That’s why I called the Helpline.”
Barfield called the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline, a program of the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET), in 2008 and has been tobacco free ever since.
The Helpline connects those registered for this free program with specially trained Quit Coaches who provide nonjudgmental support and help build personal quit plans. Free quit coaching, support online and by text, as well as free patches, gum or lozenges are available for all Oklahoma tobacco users trying to quit.
Barfield is one of hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans who have taken advantage of the free coaching and services, resulting in Oklahoma having more former smokers than current smokers.
Many quit with assistance from the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline, which has helped more than 300,000 Oklahomans since it was first funded 14 years ago. The Helpline regularly ranks in the top quitlines by the North American Quitline Consortium. According to the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline annual satisfaction survey administered by the University of Oklahoma College of Public Health, the Helpline also maintains an over 94 percent satisfaction rating among registrants.
There’s still work to be done. Even now that more Oklahomans are former than current smokers, the state still ranks among the nation’s unhealthiest states, and tobacco use is a major reason.
According to data from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, every year, 7,500 Oklahomans die from smoking-related illnesses, and hundreds of thousands more suffer from its harmful effects. For every Oklahoman who dies, 30 more live with a chronic health condition related to tobacco use. Tobacco also places a substantial financial burden on the state, costing nearly $1.62 billion annually in excess healthcare costs alone.
Sixteen years ago, TSET was tasked with reducing tobacco use and obesity, which are the primary contributors to Oklahoma’s leading causes of preventable death — cancer, stroke and heart disease. Programs like the Helpline, along with other statewide grants from TSET, are supporting Oklahomans in living heathier lives.
Participants who take full advantage of Helpline services achieve a more than 30 percent quit rate, compared to the 5 percent success rate of those who quit cold turkey, TSET officials said. Plus, the Helpline is saving millions each year in direct medical costs. Health care costs for a tobacco user is nearly three times more than the cost of health care for a non-tobacco, according to an analysis of insurance claims data.
“By encouraging Oklahomans to quit using tobacco and adopt tobacco-free policies, — and providing the free resources to do so — TSET is saving lives, preventing future long-term disease and saving the state millions each year in direct medical costs,” said John Woods, TSET executive director.
Efforts to prevent and reduce tobacco use funded by TSET can be credited for helping reduce the number of adult smokers in Oklahoma, according to a recent study by researchers at the Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, and the College of Public Health at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
The study found that adult smoking in Oklahoma has declined by more than 10 times faster than six states with similar cigarettes prices and clean indoor air policies.
Since 2006, grants and programs funded by TSET have helped save more than 42,280 lives and more than $1.24 billion in medical costs have been avoided. Oklahoma now has 126,900 fewer current smokers as a result of TSET’s efforts to prevent and reduce tobacco use, according to the study.
In addition to the free services of the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline, TSET provides grants to health systems across the state. By working with hospitals, physicians and behavioral health providers, TSET ensures all patients interested in quitting tobacco have access to the free Helpline services.
TSET awards grants to recruit physicians to rural and medically underserved communities across Oklahoma. These physicians receive specialized training in assisting patients with quitting tobacco as well as information on the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline.
“Research shows that when a health care provider prompts a patient to quit tobacco, they are more likely to quit and stay quit,” added Woods. “Through current funding to health services and physicians to promote cessation, the Helpline has seen a more than 120 percent increase in referrals from providers.”
“But the real impact here is the Oklahoma lives saved, the number of years added to their lives and like for Bryce, the time to spend with our loved ones,” he added.
Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline’s resources are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call 1-800-QUIT NOW or go to the website. Connect with the Helpline through social media by liking the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline on Facebook, or following @OKhelpline on Twitter and Instagram.