Peers Helping Peers Quit Smoking

While smoking rates have declined in the United States over the last few decades, there is a population that has struggled to quit smoking–those with severe or persistent mental illness. The prevalence of smoking among this population is very high–44% of cigarettes consumed are by those with mental health or alcohol and drug abuse issues.

Victor Banks knows what it’s like to quit smoking while also dealing with behavioral health challenges. He quit smoking six weeks ago and still uses the nicotine patch. Armed with that experience and a positive attitude, Banks is the new peer counselor hired by NAMI Wisconsin to help his peers quit smoking. The UW-Center for Tobacco Research & Intervention (UW-CTRI) is the academic partner on the grant. 

Banks will work with the case managers in two underserved urban communities—Milwaukee and Madison—within Community Support Programs (CSP) to bring evidence-based tobacco dependence interventions to their clients. CSP clients have severe, persistent and disabling mental illness. Some of his work will focus on smoking reduction, health concerns related to tobacco related illness, coaching and nicotine replacement therapy medication. 

Bruce Christiansen (left) of UW-CTRI and Douglas Tipperman (right) of SAMHSA

Bruce Christiansen (left) of UW-CTRI and Douglas Tipperman (right) of SAMHSA

“It’s grassroots,” Banks said. “I’m taking a direct approach with a vulnerable population. I’m a strong advocate for quitting smoking.”

Experts from governing entities, advocacy groups, and peer networks convened on May 7 at the Madison Concourse Hotel to launch the grant project. Douglas Tipperman of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) commended the group for its leadership. “Wisconsin is actually one of the first to address this important issue,” Tipperman said, referring to the Wisconsin Nicotine Treatment Integration Project (WiNTiP). “This state is a pioneer.”

Joyce Allen, director of the state Bureau of Prevention, Treatment and Recovery, discusses how tobacco addiction has touched the lives of those close to her. 

Joyce Allen, director of the state Bureau of Prevention, Treatment and Recovery, discusses how tobacco addiction has touched the lives of those close to her. 

Joyce Allen, director of the state Bureau of Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery, part of the Department of Health Services, said the UW has been a wonderful partner through the years. “UW-CTRI has really taken up the charge to help people with mental health and substance abuse disorders to quit smoking.” Allen said she has seen people she cares about struggle with behavioral health issues plus tobacco addiction, and the toll that can take. “It’s a very important issue to me.”

The project’s two primary objectives are 1) identify tobacco intervention roles that can be effectively carried out by a peer counselor and 2) develop a plan for sustaining and expanding the use of peer counselors to address tobacco dependence to all Wisconsin CSPs. The new NAMI Wisconsin project began in May and will run for two years with a budget of $150,000. UW-CTRI's Bruce Christiansen, Erin Terbeek, and Nick Wiley provided support for the kickoff event. 


Partners in attendance at the kick-off included representatives from:
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Center for Substance Abuse Prevention
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
The Center for Disease Control
Breakfree Alliance
Institute for Clinical and Translational Research
WI Bureau of Prevention, Treatment & Recovery
WI Nicotine Integration Project (WiNTiP)
WI Partnership Program
Tobacco Prevention and Control Program
Consumers Helping Others Improve Their Condition by Ending Smoking (CHOICES)
The Main Place
Access to Independence