Why are more Vermonters signing up for help to stop smoking?

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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) 802Quits is the Vermont Health Department's program that helps those trying to quit smoking and vaping. And it's seeing a surge in people reaching out for help. Our Olivia Lyons spoke with the state's chief of chronic disease prevention to find out why and what they're doing to help.

802Quits usually sees an influx of people try to quit smoking or vaping in January. But this year, there was a large increase in people who registered for help in March.

"To see this spike in March is unusual and good news that Vermonters are reaching out and accessing these free resources available to them," said Rhonda Williams, the chronic disease prevention chief for the Vt. Department of Health.

In March of this year, 123 people registered over the phone. That's up 41% from last year. And online registration has gone up 167%; 193 people registered in 2019 and a whopping 516 people registered this past month.

Williams says there are many possible contributing factors to the spike. One is COVID-19.

"For those who smoke or vape or use other substances that there can be more serious consequences of the illness. And the message may be resonating that it's a good time for quitting because the benefits can be quite immediate," Williams said.

She says other contributing factors may be PSAs that began airing in March featuring tips from former smokers.

And at a press conference earlier this week, Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine highlighted resources available to Vermonters through the help link.

"What better time to direct your mental energies to something most smokers we know actually think about a lot-- quitting," Levine said.

Williams says now is the time no matter how long you've smoked or vaped. She shares the story of one woman in her 60s who quit smoking five years ago.

"She would reward herself that for every cigarette that she reduced by, she would get to go learn something new on the computer. It is never too late, even if someone has smoked for many years," Williams said.

Just a few days ago, 802Quits began reaching out to parents with kids 13 and up. It's part of a program giving assistance to parents who are helping their kids quit vaping.