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Conveying critical messages and successes of quitlines to policy makers

Posted By Natalia A. Gromov, Monday, May 21, 2012
Updated: Monday, May 21, 2012

In the first four months of this blog, we have moved from celebration and reflection on our past to gold-standard quitline services and emerging technology. You may be wondering when we’re going to talk about one of the most critical issues facing public quitlines today – funding and sustainability. NAQC asked Jennifer Singleterry, MA, Manager of Cessation Policy for the American Lung Association to share her thoughts on how the quitline community can best convey the successes of quitlines to policy makers? What are the critical messages that matter when budgets are tight? Jennifer, a new member of NAQC’s Advisory Council, had this to say:

In these days of limited resources and high demand for services, it is more important than ever for quitlines to effectively communicate successes (and other information) to policymakers. There are several things to keep in mind when communicating with policymakers:

  • Policymakers are not always able to think long-term. They are often most concerned with what can happen, and what results can be shown, now.
  • Policymakers always have economics and budgets in mind.
  • Policymakers hear and read tens if not hundreds of statistics a day. It’s a personal story that will make them remember your issue.
  • Policymakers are most concerned about what happens in their district, or their state. Local information or stories are always best.
  • Most policymakers are not going to be experts in tobacco cessation or public health. It’s important to keep information and explanations concise and illustrate your points using personal stories.

Keeping all these things in mind, what types of messages are important to convey to policymakers?

  • Current data. Policymakers want to know what is happening NOW – or at least what has happened in the last year. Remember that policymakers think in the short-term, so data from two years ago is not relevant to them.
  • Personal stories with names and faces. Bring a constituent who has quit using the quitline to a policymaker, and he or she is much more likely to pay attention.
  • Positive media stories. If it is published in a newspaper or played on TV, the story is not only validated by a third party as important – the policymaker also knows that his or her constituents have seen the story.
  • Data showing good return-on-investment. Many studies have shown that investing in tobacco cessation treatment saves money in the short- and long-term. This is a crucial message to deliver to policymakers, and the more you can localize it, the better.
  • Local call volume data. Policymakers want to know how many people from their district have called the quitline.
  • Average quit rate for your quitline, and how it compares to unassisted quit attempts.This is going to be more relevant to the policymaker than showing them the academic literature showing quitlines are effective.
  • Success stories from states that are relevant to yours. If you’re a small state, try to use examples from other small states, for example.
  • Trends data. If you are experiencing higher call volume than unusual, that is very important to share.

In the world of policymaking, your favorite contacts are the people who can provide you with current and relevant information with short turn-around. If you are able to get information to policymakers and their staffs quickly, they are more likely to ask you the next time around. Having these types of relationships with policy staff are crucial to getting support for your quitline.

One thing that is important to note: successes are not the only thing you should be sharing with policymakers. If demand for the quitline is exceeding your capacity, share that with policymakers. If you are not promoting your quitline because you don’t have the capacity to handle an increased number of calls, that is also important information to share. Both point to the need for more resources and the fact that smokers will call the quitline when they are aware of it. Be sure to link the increased costs today back to the reduction in healthcare costs tomorrow.

In the states, the current Tips from Former Smokers campaign gives quitlines a great opportunity to communicate with policymakers. This campaign is very visible and most policymakers are likely familiar with it. Policymakers are probably interested in how the ad campaign has affected call volume and the number of people in their states and districts interested in quitting. Implementation of new warning labels in Canada creates a similar situation.

The moral of the story is, whether you’re in the U.S. or Canada, whether you’re in a state or province that is pinching pennies or flush (do those exist any more?), now is a GREAT time to reach out to policymakers on behalf of your quitline.

What are some of the creative strategies you have used to garner support from policymakers? If you could give one piece of advice on communicating with policymakers about quitlines, what would it be?

Tags:  American Lung Association  data  funding and sustainability  Jennifer Singleterry  key messages  policy makers  roi  success stories 

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