Anthem, American Lung Association and HUD: A Public/Private Partnership for Community Health

Mark Twain once said, “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times.”

We know smoking is bad news. It is the leading cause of lung cancer - the number one cancer killer of both men and women. Smoking also increases the risks of stroke, heart disease, and other types of cancers almost anywhere in the body. And there is even worse news:  Second-hand smoke can be just as bad, especially for children, who are at higher risk for asthma attacks, respiratory infections, and ear infections. Smoking-related illnesses cost the U.S. more than $300 billion each year - much of this straining the health care services that we, one of the nation’s largest health care companies, are trying to provide affordably for our customers.

At the Anthem Foundation, we believe that investing in the health of our communities directly contributes to our vision to be America’s valued health partner. To ensure we are not only improving public health broadly, but also meaningfully reducing health disparities, we created “Healthy Generations,” a multi-generational initiative focused on five focus areas:

  1. Advancing healthy hearts,
  2. Preventing cancer,
  3. Advocating for maternal practices,
  4. Preventing diabetes prevention, and
  5. Promoting active lifestyles 

The Healthy Generations strategic platform guides us in identifying community partners that share our goals and commitment to creating a healthier generation of Americans. We also realize that poor health can’t be addressed in a silo. Our greatest successes have resulted from exceptional partnerships, proven program models and opportunities to improve health across multiple Healthy Generations focus areas.

One such success involves our partnership with the American Lung Association and some promising “good” news concerning the issue of smoking. Quitting smoking is not easy but smoking is the NUMBER ONE MOST PREVENTABLE cause of death and disease in the U.S. and individuals that engage with a proven effective, evidence-based cessation program are most successful in adopting a tobacco-free, healthier lifestyle. Through our long-standing partnership with the American Lung Association, we have identified and implemented powerful smoking cessation models that have reduced tobacco disparities for specific priority populations including pregnant women, veterans, and individuals with behavioral health needs. Most specifically, results from the Freedom from Smoking model have been impressive with more than double the individuals quitting smoking than anticipated.

In 2016, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a nationwide smoking ban in public housing that went into effect in 2017. Public housing residents include vulnerable and diverse populations, with 38% of them being children; 45% are African American; 25% are Latino; and 95% are in low to extremely low income groups. HUD has urged local public housing authorities (PHAs) to enforce the ban and provide solutions for residents who smoke within the next 18 months, yet has not provided additional resources for them to do so. The need for help is great.

The HUD ruling created a powerful and unique opportunity for us to leverage our strengths within a major community health partnership between Anthem, the American Lung Association, and HUD. As a result of Anthem Foundation’s funding, PHA staffmembers in 14 states are now being provided with American Lung Association expertise, resources and support to meet the need by:

  • Making available the only proven-effective, evidence-based Freedom from Smoking program free of charge to residents;
  • Training public housing staff to deliver cessation treatments, effective intervention with tobacco users, motivational interviewing techniques and the Freedom from Smoking program;
  • Offering online and telephonic cessation services 24 hours a day.

With the ban affecting more than 1.5 million residents across 687,125 public housing units in 26 Anthem market areas, we were excited to step up for those who need the most help quitting and giving up the life-threatening habit for good. Our hopes are high for success as we have had more than four in ten individuals managing to quit smoking within this model in earlier campaigns.

This program exemplifies Anthem Foundation’s goals for improving community health by creating a powerful public/private partnership model, addressing four out of five of our Healthy Generations focus areas, building upon our past success with our national nonprofit partner and reaching low socioeconomic populations that are at the greatest risk. Even more importantly, there was no question which initiative we were most excited to highlight in this report as we work together to reduce or eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke for our most vulnerable neighbors - the children of the coming generation. 

Executive Director, Anthem Foundation