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Lack of Investment in Smoking Cessation Can Have Combustible Consequences

Photo: Courtesy of Mathew MacQuarrie

Investors poured $13.8 billion into digital health companies between 2017 and 2018. That’s exciting news, at first glance.

Scratch the surface, however, and you’ll find that very little of that investment has gone into modernizing smoking cessation. The space is populated by old-school telephonic coaching and cookie cutter programs that basically repurposed and reposted old smoking cessation workbooks on a website and called themselves “digital.”

A dangerous lot of nothing

The lack of investment and innovation comes down to a problem of will. Not on the part of smokers: About 70 percent of them want to quit, and half will try in any given year. (Only about five percent succeed.) Rather, it’s a failure on the part of health plans, employers, and society at large to not recognize smoking cessation as a massive unmet need.

Before assuming otherwise, smoking is everyone’s problem. For every $1 of tobacco sales, the U.S. economy pays at least $4 to cover the resulting healthcare costs and lost productivity. Leaving aside this massive economic impact, secondhand smoke alone kills 41,000 non-smokers in the U.S. each year. For perspective, car crashes kill about 30,000 people annually. Smoker or not, we are all suffering the effects of smoking.

Not just blowing smoke

The tendency to view smoking as a personal choice and a concern only for smokers has resulted, predictably, in a lack of investment and innovation in smoking cessation. Phone-based counseling and quit classes are about as engaging as a trip to the DMV.It doesn’t have to be this way. We have proven ways to help people quit smoking. And digital technology has given us a way to deliver those methods to almost anyone, anywhere, at any time. This problem is completely solvable. We simply have to recognize smoking for the massive problem it is—the leading cause of preventative death and disease in the U.S.—and direct our resources accordingly.

David Utley, M.D., President & CEO, Carrot, Inc.

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