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More smokers try to quit if the government helps them

During 2011, the Dutch government covered the costs of counselling and drugs to help smokers quit, and during this year ten times more people called a national smoking-cessation hotline, and the number of smokers in the Netherlands dropped significantly, according to a new study, as reported by Reuters.

The authors of the study conclude that more people may enrol in smoking cessation programmes (and may quit smoking) if their governments or insurance companies offer to pay for the therapies and medications.

Starting in January 2011, the Dutch government agreed to reimburse citizens for smoking cessation treatments, which included group, face-to-face, or telephone counselling. Treatment providers were also encouraged to incorporate medications, such as nicotine replacement products, into the treatment programme.

However, the government ended the programme after just one year, when the researchers say it was stopped for political and economic reasons.

In 2010, when there was no reimbursement system, 848 smokers called the national hotline and enrolled in its smoking-cessation programmes.

In 2011, when the reimbursement system was in place, 9.091 smokers enrolled in the hotline's programmes, a more than 10-fold rise over the previous year.

However, after the reimbursement system was eliminated, just 151 smokers enrolled in the hotline's programmes during the first 4,5 months of 2012 - a decrease even over 2010 rates (when 323 people enrolled during the same time period).

It is not possible for the study authors to say how many people who enrolled in the smoking cessation programme actually quit smoking successfully.

However, according to the authors, national statistics regarding the proportion of the population who smoke indicate that for 2006 through 2010 this number remained fairly steady at around 27 percent, but dropped to 24,7 percent in 2011. These numbers do not prove that the reimbursement system influenced smoking rates, but they are suggestive nonetheless.

The lead author of the study, Professor Marc Willemsen of Maastricht University and STIVORO, the Dutch expert centre for tobacco control, told Reuters Health that the reimbursement system will be reinstated following protests from members of parliament and health organisations.

According to Willemsen, "Dutch smokers can now be reassured that they will receive full reimbursement for smoking cessation in 2013."

The study, entitled "Population impact of reimbursement for smoking cessation: A natural experiment in the Netherlands," will appear in the journal Addiction. You can read the abstract or download a (paid) version of the article here.

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Carly Blair

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