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Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 2022

DOI: 10.1093/ntr/ntac160



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The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Tobacco Treatment Program Implementation at National Cancer Institute-Designated Cancer Centers

Distributing this paper is prohibited by the publisher
Distributing this paper is prohibited by the publisher

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Abtstract Introduction The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted cancer screening and treatment delivery, but COVID-19’s impact on tobacco cessation treatment for cancer patients who smoke has not been widely explored. Methods We conducted a sequential cross-sectional analysis of data collected from 34 NCI-designated cancer centers participating in NCI’s Cancer Center Cessation Initiative (C3I), across three reporting periods: one prior to COVID-19 (January–June 2019) and two during the pandemic (January–June 2020, January-June 2021). Using McNemar’s Test of Homogeneity, we assessed changes in services offered and implementation activities over time. Results The proportion of centers offering remote treatment services increased each year for Quitline referrals (56%, 68%, and 91%; p=.000), telephone counseling (59%, 79%, and 94%; p=.002), and referrals to Smokefree TXT (27%, 47%, and 56%; p=.006). Centers offering video-based counseling increased from 2020 to 2021 (18% to 59%; p=.006), Fewer than 10% of centers reported laying off tobacco treatment staff. Compared to early 2020, in 2021 C3I centers reported improvements in their ability to maintain staff and clinician morale, refer to external treatment services, train providers to deliver tobacco treatment, and modify clinical workflows. Discussion The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated rapid transition to new telehealth program delivery of tobacco treatment for patients with cancer. C3I cancer centers adjusted rapidly to challenges presented by the pandemic, with improvements reported in staff morale and ability to train providers, refer patients to tobacco treatment, and modify clinical workflows. These factors enabled C3I centers to sustain evidence-based tobacco treatment implementation during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Implications This work describes how NCI-designated cancer centers participating in the Cancer Center Cessation Initiative (C3I) adapted to challenges to sustain evidence-based tobacco use treatment programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. This work offers a model for resilience and rapid transition to remote tobacco treatment services delivery and proposes a policy and research agenda for telehealth services as an approach to sustaining evidence-based tobacco treatment programs.