Wilmot Launches New Fully-Remote Smoking Cessation Program with Free Medications in 27-County Region

Dec. 16, 2020

In an effort to help impact higher-than-average rates of lung cancer and smoking in its region, Wilmot Cancer Institute’s Community Outreach and Engagement office (COE) has launched a new fully-remote program to support smokers with quitting, using free nicotine replacement therapy medications delivered by mail and counseling via text-messaging.

Francisco Cartujano, M.D.

“Quitting smoking is one of the best things people can do for their own health and their family so we’re excited to offer this program to people living in our region, where tobacco use is high,” says Francisco Cartujano, M.D., Wilmot COE Assistant Director and leader of this new program.

After forming at Wilmot in early 2020, the COE team began analyzing data around cancer rates and disparities in Wilmot’s 27-county catchment area. This region is the area from which most Wilmot patients live and it stretches from Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties on the west, to Herkimer, Otsego and Delaware counties to the east and much of the Southern Tier region.

Hot spots in red show places in Wilmot's catchment area where high smoking rates are prevalent.

The COE wanted to identify what cancer disparities exist in the region and pretty quickly, one jumped off the map: Lung cancer. They found that the 27-county catchment area has both higher rates of lung cancer and of smoking.

Specifically, the area had about 68 cases of lung cancer per 100,000 people, compared to about 55 cases per 100,000 in New York state as a whole, and 51 cases per 100,000 across the U.S. This coincides with higher smoking rates in the region: In the 27-county area, about 19% of the population smokes, but state-wide in New York, only about 14% smoke.

While it is possible to get lung cancer even if you don’t use tobacco, smoking is linked with about 80 to 90 percent of lung cancer deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Also, those who smoke are 15 to 30 percent times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer compared to those who don’t smoke.

Ana Paula Cupertino, Ph.D.

The Smoking Cessation team, which has more than 15 years of experience in smoking cessation research and service, decided to make this program remote and primarily use text messaging, knowing that much of the 27-county area is fairly rural and resides outside Monroe County. A fully remote approach also became crucial with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“By helping people in our community quit smoking, we are helping reduce the long-term incidence of cancer, specifically lung cancer,” says Wilmot COE Associate Director Ana Paula Cupertino, Ph.D. “We’re thrilled to be able to enroll smokers who otherwise would not have access to smoking cessation treatment, especially smokers living in rural areas or in underserved and uninsured communities.”

Those who enroll in the program will start with a 60-minute initial assessment by phone with a tobacco treatment specialist. They’ll ask questions and assess where the quitter is in his or her quitting journey. The specialist will talk about nicotine replacement therapy – nicotine patches, gum or lozenges – which are available for free with the program. Once the quitter has developed a quit plan, the program will mail the person’s preferred medication to their home.

“One of the things we learned in developing this program is that access to medication can be challenging so we are providing medication at no cost, and mailing everything,” Cartujano says.

Arlette Chavez, M.D.

After the initial phone call, participants can enroll in the text-messaging program, which is automated, although customized to the person quitting. And there’s someone on the other end of the text message, too, checking messages and chiming in if someone needs help.

“When they enroll in the text-messaging program, we ask them to select a quit date and we work with them around that date,” says Arlette Chavez, M.D., a Tobacco Treatment Specialist with the program. “Before that date, we prepare them for that big day, and after that day, we support them on their journey to be smoke-free.”

This program is free and open to anyone over age 18 who smokes and lives within the 27-county catchment area.

“Wilmot is dedicated to reducing cancer’s burden on our catchment area and that starts with knowing that our region’s greatest disparities are in lung cancer and smoking rates,” says Jonathan W. Friedberg, M.D., M.M.Sc., director of Wilmot Cancer Institute. “By creating this program, we can address those disparities, while having a positive impact on some of our most vulnerable populations.”

Wilmot Cancer Institute also offers a Tobacco Dependence Treatment Program for those who have received a cancer diagnosis and want to quit smoking. Research shows quitting smoking even after a diagnosis of any type of cancer may help prolong life and improve quality of life.

To learn more or speak with a tobacco specialist, call (585) 504-9461 or email