Quitline defends its expenses

By Bevan Hurley

Film director Taika Waititi has lent his name to the quitline campaign. Photo / Martin Sykes
Film director Taika Waititi has lent his name to the quitline campaign. Photo / Martin Sykes

A taxpayer-funded smoking helpline spends $200 just to register every prospective quitter.

Quitline has received more than $40 million to maintain its "addiction counselling" services in the past five years, an Official Information Act request shows.

Quitline expenses go towards telephone support, quit smoking programmes, television, radio and print quit campaigns.

Critics say the money could be spent better elsewhere.

Smokers who want to quit can also claim, for just $3, an additional $400 worth of nicotine patches, gum or lozenges with each six-week prescription.

And just one in five of those who contact Quitline stay off cigarettes for more than six months.

Quit Group chief executive Paula Snowden said the service saved money in the long term.

"In terms of getting people to successfully quit, our Quitline service is one of the most effective in the world," she said.

"This success rate is five times higher than for those people attempting to quit cold turkey."

The service had seen a massive spike in demand after taxes on tobacco increased in July.

Health Ministry analysts said it was a cost-effective way of helping people to quit smoking when compared to expensive lung cancer treatments.

National programme manager for tobacco control Karen Evison said there was a perception that Quitline didn't represent good value for money.

But she said systems had been improved and the current quit smoking system was cost effective.

"Nicotine replacement therapy has been proved internationally to be one of the most cost-effective interventions. It is extremely cheap compared to the costs of intensive lung cancer treatment."

But ACT health spokesman Sir Roger Douglas said the Government should stop interfering with people's habits.

"Smokers are increasingly a beleaguered minority who are told that they are hurting society, are bad parents, and should be harshly judged by others," he said. The money could return net benefits to society spent elsewhere.

Quitline is part of a Government strategy that enlisted celebrities such as movie director Taika Waititi to speak about their attempts to quit.

Since 2005 smoking rates have fallen slightly from 24 to 21 per cent among adults over the age of 15.

- Herald on Sunday

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