Helping smokers quit: Understanding the barriers to utilization of smoking cessation services

Sarah E. Gollust, Steven A. Schroeder, Kenneth E. Warner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Context: Counseling smokers to quit smoking and providing them with pharmaceutical cessation aides are among the most beneficial and cost-effective interventions that clinicians can offer patients. Yet assistance with quitting is not universally covered by health plans or offered by all clinicians. Analysis of stakeholders' perspectives and interests can identify the barriers to more widespread provision of cessation services and suggest strategies for the public policy agenda to advance smoking cessation. Methods: Review of literature and discussions with representatives of stakeholders. Findings: All stakeholders - health plans, employers, clinicians, smokers, and the government - face barriers to broader smoking cessation activities. These range from health plans' perceiving that covering counseling and pharmacotherapy will increase costs without producing commensurate health care savings, to clinicians' feeling unprepared and uncompensated for counseling. Like other preventive measures aimed at behavior, efforts directed at smoking cessation have marginal status among health care interventions. State governments can help correct this status by increasing Medicaid coverage of treatment and expanding coverage for state employees. The federal government can promote the adoption of six initiatives recommended by a government subcommittee on cessation: set up a national quit line, develop a media campaign to encourage cessation, include cessation benefits in all federally funded insurance plans, create a research infrastructure to improve cessation rates, develop a clinician training agenda, and create a fund to increase cessation activities through a new $2 per pack cigarette excise tax. Both the federal and state governments can increase cessation by adopting policies such as the higher cigarette tax and laws prohibiting smoking in workplaces and public places. Conclusions: Public policy efforts should assume greater social responsibility for smoking cessation, including more aggressive leadership at the state and federal levels, as well as through advocacy, public health, and clinician organizations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)601-627
Number of pages27
JournalMilbank Quarterly
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2008


  • Cessation
  • Insurance coverage
  • Policy
  • Smoking


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