Thrive by IU Health

November 18, 2020

Offering help to go tobacco-free during COVID-19

IU Health Simon Cancer Center

Offering help to go tobacco-free during COVID-19

People who are tobacco users and who vape have a higher chance of getting COVID-19. IU Health offers smoking cessation programs to help those users.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes,

She has two children ages nine and 12. Caroline Budnick knows she needs to remain healthy to care for her son and daughter. She wanted to do everything she could to take those steps – especially when the world is faced with rising numbers of a novel pandemic.

She started smoking in high school. Now, at the age of 44, Budnick is getting help through IU Health Simon Cancer Center’s free Tobacco Treatment Program.

“I am always trying to quit, but when the resource was offered to me it seemed like a good idea. COVID just scares me, and I have two great kids I need to be healthy for,” said Budnick. “My kids are super happy and proud that I am not smoking, and that feels really good.”

This month as the American Cancer Society stages the “Great American Smokeout,” the IU Health Simon Cancer Center’s Tobacco Treatment Program marks its second anniversary. An added emphasis of the program is COVID-19.

Research indicates smoking and vaping cause negative effects on the lungs and immune system, putting those users at greater risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus. Those who contract the virus can also experience worsened outcomes as compared with non-users.

The American Cancer Society estimates 40 million Americans smoke or use tobacco. According to the World Health Organization, tobacco use causes eight million deaths every year from cardiovascular diseases, lung disorders, diabetes, hypertension, and cancer.

Two years ago, IU Health Social Worker and Tobacco Treatment Specialist Danielle Barwise began working with oncology patients at IU Health Simon Cancer Center and IU Health North’s Schwarz Cancer Center. Barwise averages five patients a day and celebrates 150 who have quit smoking.

She starts by offering an initial assessment of tobacco use and the patient’s interest in quitting. She then offers them one-on-one counseling (in person or virtually) to monitor their progress, personalized resources, and medication information, along with strategies to prevent relapse.

“Since the program started referrals have increased and patients seem more receptive to quitting,” said Barwise. Physicians, nurses and medical assistants generally refer patients to Barwise. “With COVID, it is more important than ever to quit smoking and vaping. We know COVID is a respiratory virus so you are more at risk and the symptoms can be more severe if you are a tobacco user,” said Barwise. IU Health Simon Cancer Center patients who would like assistance can call 317-944-Quit or email for assistance. Other patients seeking free assistance may call the Indiana Tobacco Quitline at 1-800-QUIT-Now.

For Budnick, the change has been noticeable.

“I’ve had more energy since I quit smoking and I just feel healthier,” she said. “Danielle is a treasure. Her kindness and encouragement are exactly what I needed to stop making excuses and give up smoking.”

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