Colorado Health Department: 2018 Is the Year of the Smoker

New Year's resolutions are as cliché as Instagrammed brunches and that overused Great Gatsby GIF of Leonardo DiCaprio. (You know exactly what I'm talking about.) Promise to start going to the gym? Eat a salad a day? Stop spending so much money on eating out? Chances are those resolutions will #epicfail after a couple of months.

That's not to say these goals aren’t worth attaining; the most likely culprit for these failures isn't the goal, but the person setting it. Resolutions may be too lofty, people may not be ready to make the life changes required, or they may be too easily discouraged.

But one resolution that may be worth keeping in 2018 is kicking your tobacco habit. Living smoke-free consistently lands on the top ten New Year’s resolutions, with 6 percent of U.S. residents vowing to flush the tobacco habit next year. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., accounting for roughly half a million deaths every year, or one of every five deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Colorado alone, 5,000 people die every year from smoking-related illnesses, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“Tobacco is an addictive substance, so people have cravings for it,” says Elizabeth Whitley, director of the state health department’s Prevention Services Division. “That’s why going cold turkey is very difficult.... It’s very difficult for people to avoid the temptation."

And Coloradans are more likely to be smokers, with 15.7 percent of adults reportedly smoking as compared to the national average of 15.1 percent. Denverites have a higher prevalence of tobacco use, with 17 percent of adults smoking.

To give Coloradans the extra push they need to kick tobacco in 2018, the state health agency is reminding residents to take advantage of its free smoking-cessation programs, including two new initiatives. Coloradans who took advantage of the state’s free services had an average quit rate of 31.5 percent. By comparison, U.S. smokers who don’t participate in a cessation program fail 95 percent of the time.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment finally took its smoking-cessation services online when it launched last year. The site is essentially the web version of the state’s longtime Colorado QuitLine, which, as its name implies, is a tobacco helpline. Users can access one-on-one counseling, register to receive free nicotine-replacement medication, and tap into a peer network of former smokers. Aside from providing a four-week supply of free nicotine gums, patches and lozenges, users can also receive a free prescription of Chantix, which is a non-nicotine medication for smoking cessation. Colorado QuitLine launched the free Chantix program in November 2016, and Coloradans are eligible for up to three months. Since then, 3,626 prescriptions have been filled, according to the department. A little more old-fashioned? The helpline is still open at 1-800-quit-now.

In another attempt to reach screen-addicted young adults and youth, the state health agency partnered with the nonprofit Truth Initiative to launch the smartphone application #ThisIsQuitting. (As one millennial said, “There’s an app for that.”) At the touch of a button, users can sign up for a text buddy who provides peer support, receive advice on how to cope with stress, and access activities to manage cravings.

“Quitting the Colorado way just got easier,” said Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer for CDPHE, in a statement. “We’re working with new technology and committed partners to break down the barriers for all Coloradans ready to quit smoking.”

The application, which launched in October, had 105 unique users through November, according to CDPHE. While the app doesn’t compare to the new website — 8,129 web enrollments — or the helpline, which received roughly 25,000 calls in fiscal year 2017, the agency is trying to meet young people where they are, which is almost always buried behind a device.

All of these programs cost the state big bucks. Overall, Colorado spends $22 million every year to reduce the use and burden of tobacco. Of that, $7.7 million is spent on tobacco-cessation programs like the Colorado QuitLine, which was established in 2002.

New Year’s resolution or not, smoking is a bad habit with enormous health risks, so it’s worth kicking to the curb. And if the first attempt doesn't work, don't despair: Coloradans can enroll in the Colorado QuitLine up to two times a year.

“We recognize how difficult it is, and oftentimes, people need to try several times to be successful,” Whitley says. “We encourage folks to give it a try and avail themselves to these resources available to them. We’re encouraging them in the new year to try and kick the habit.”