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CVS Empowers Consumers Helping Others Improve their Condition by Ending Smoking

Rutgers University, RWJMS Division of Addiction Psychaitry, CHOICES Program

Recipient of $25,000 CVS Health Community Grant

The support from CVS Health will help CHOICES expand their ability to address tobacco in the mental health community throughout the state of New Jersey.  The CHOICES program was created in 2005 to address the serious problem of smoking in individuals with mental illness.  The program employs 3 part time peer specialists, who travel throughout the state of NJ to deliver the message that addressing tobacco is a critical issue in the overall well-being of individuals living with mental illness.  This grant allows for 18 months of funding for an additional peer specialist, thereby expanding the reach of the program.  

Studies estimate that these groups purchase and consume nearly half of all the cigarettes sold in the US, yet few models have emerged to reach them.  The consequences of these elevated smoking rates are considerable with half of all the deaths in schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression attributed to tobacco.   “We are thrilled that CVS chose to continue funding our efforts to reach smokers with mental illness and other disadvantaged groups,” said Dr. Jill Williams, CHOICES Co-Founder and Medical Director. “By providing this additional funding, CVS Health is allowing CHOICES to significantly broaden their reach to smokers with mental illness throughout the state of New Jersey,” said Patricia Dooley Budsock, Program Director.


State of TOBACCO Control 2015: Did New Jersey Make The Grade?


NIH Office of Disease Prevention Seminar Series:

Helping Smokers With Behavioral Health Comorbidity Requires a National Effort

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Dr. Jill M. Williams, MD

Dr. Williams will be speaking about the fact that although public health interventions have led to lower smoking rates in the United States over the last 40 years, smokers with mental illness or an addiction other than smoking have benefited less from these efforts. At this time, little is being done nationally at the mental health or public health systems level to promote smoking cessation in this population. Moreover, she will talk about how little is known about smokers with mental illness or an addictive behavior because of the lack of critical information on their tobacco use patterns and trends, as well as on the effects of tobacco control measures such as excise taxes, advertising, or clean indoor air laws on this population. Dr. Williams will discuss how smokers with behavioral health comorbidity are not listed as a disparity group or priority population by most national public health or tobacco control groups, although they fulfill the criteria commonly used to designate other groups (e.g., targeted marketing by the tobacco industry, greater smoking prevalence rates, increased economic and health burden from tobacco, less access to treatment services, and longer durations of smoking with less cessation). Designating them a priority group will bring much needed attention and resources. The disparity between smoking rates in the behavioral health population compared with the general population will worsen over time if their needs remain unaddressed.

Watch Seminar


ON MAY 26, 2011

Empowering people with mental illness who smoke
to become non-smokers

People First Radio spoke with Consumer Tobacco Advocate Yasmin Halim and Program Director Patricia Dooley of CHOICES, about our consumer-driven program for smokers with mental illness in New Jersey. The audio from that interview is now posted online, click on the following link to listen: http://www.columbiancentresociety.com/prfcontent/311_may_26_2011_sm.mp3

October 9, 2009
Smoking Cessation Program for Mental Health Patients
Honored by American Psychiatric Association

New Brunswick, NJ -- The division of addiction psychiatry at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School has championed efforts to reduce tobacco use among individuals with mental illness, a group estimated to consume nearly half of all cigarettes in the United States.  Those efforts have received national recognition by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), which granted a Silver Achievement Award to the CHOICES program today at a ceremony in New York City. 

CHOICES – Consumers Helping Others Improve Their Condition by Ending Smoking – employs peer counselors, called Consumer Tobacco Advocates (CTA), to promote smoking cessation in smokers with mental illness. The CTAs are nonsmokers or former smokers who are moderately impaired or disabled by mental illness. They receive 30 hours of intensive tobacco training and then reach out to their peers in mental health centers, psychiatric hospitals, group homes, and self-help centers. Their goal is not to provide treatment, but to assist and motivate their peers to address tobacco use by sharing their own experiences with quitting, providing educational materials, and linking their peers to treatment, referrals, advocacy and support for smoking cessation in New Jersey.

“Peers are less threatening than professionals,” said Jill Williams, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and co-founder and medical director of the program. “CHOICES symbolizes empowerment and personal choice in recovery by utilizing peer counselors to deliver the vital message to smokers with mental illness that addressing tobacco use is important to their health and to motivate them to seek treatment.”

By presenting the Silver Award, the APA honored CHOICES’ unique peer-to-peer grass-roots approach to promoting tobacco cessation.  In its October issue of Psychiatric Services journal, the APA noted, “The CHOICES program exemplifies many aspects of a successful wellness and recovery initiative. For example, it targets a group with a vital health care need; seeks to reduce tobacco’s harm in a vulnerable group; focuses its efforts in the community, which best accommodates the target population; employs peers to reduce educational and cultural barriers; and develops successful partnerships with key stakeholders for sustainability.”

According to Dr. Williams and co-founder Marie Verna, the program’s advocacy director and senior training and consultation specialist at UMDNJ-University Behavioral Healthcare’s Center for Excellence in Psychiatry, the CHOICES team has conducted more than 280 community visits, reaching more than 9,600 smokers with mental illness, since the program’s inception in 2005.  The team also participates in consumer conferences and health-related fairs. 

In an outcome study of the CHOICES program, consumers that had met individually with a peer counselor for personalized feedback about their smoking experienced a significant decrease in the number of cigarettes smoked each day and an increase in the number of quit attempts.  Many study participants reported that after meeting with a CTA they had talked to their mental health provider about getting help with quitting smoking. Participants also reported that the CTAs were extremely knowledgeable about tobacco and interested in their smoking. Seventy percent of those surveyed said that talking to a peer about their smoking was much easier than talking to a mental health professional.

The CTAs also reported that their experience of working with CHOICES has helped them achieve greater recovery in their own mental illness.  Each has gone on to achieve personal milestones including participating in publications, statewide and consumer conferences on wellness and recovery and/or have gone on to seek additional formal education.  

CHOICES is based in the department of psychiatry at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and partnered with the Mental Health Association of New Jersey, a consumer-driven mental health advocacy organization, and the New Jersey State Division of Mental Health Services, a primary source of funding for the program. CHOICES is listed as a best-practices resource in several national provider toolkits for the treatment of tobacco use in mental health settings, including those published by the Smoking Cessation Leadership and the Behavioral Health and Wellness Program of the University of Colorado in 2009. The CHOICES model is expanding beyond New Jersey to reach a larger audience of smokers. A multistate implementation of CHOICES is now underway on the West Coast.

CHOICES Receives AMA Grant Award

CHOICES received a $5,000 grant from the American Medical Association’s Foundation Fund for Better Health. The Fund for Better Health awards grants for grassroots public health projects that target the issue of healthy lifestyles in communities across the United States. This year’s focus was on programs that address: nutrition and physical fitness; alcohol, drug and smoking; and violence prevention. Due to rising printing and postage costs, this grant award will allow the CHOICES program to continue to mail our newsletters to our readers who do not have access to email.


September 14, 2008
Hopeful Case

Advocate is anxious to tell story of his mental illness

CHOICES Consumer Advocate, Eric Arauz, was interviewed by the Star-Ledger and the story was in the Sunday, September 14, 2008 I Am New Jersey Section of the newspaper. To read more, click on the following link: http://blog.nj.com/iamnj/2008/09/eric_arauz.html

July 7, 2008
National Mental Health Partnership for
Wellness & Smoking Cessation, Washington DC

Panelists for this historic in-service training included our very own CHOICES Advocate, Eric Arauz and Dr. Jill Williams. Click here to read more.

Congratulations to the CHOICES team!  CHOICES is listed as a resource in the newly released guide, Bringing Everyone Along Resource Guide for Health Professional Providing Tobacco Cessation Services for People with Mental Illness and Substance Abuse Disorders, published by the Tobacco Cessation Leadership Network (TCLN). CHOICES is listed alongside organizations that are leaders in the field.  The guide was “developed to assist an array of health professionals to adapt tobacco cessation services to the unique needs of tobacco users with mental illness and substance use disorders.”

Here are the links to the summary and full version:  
Guide (p.45): http://www.tcln.org/pdfs/BEA_Resource_Guide-web.pdf
Summary(p.8): http://www.tcln.org/pdfs/BEASummary-Web.pdf


June 11, 2007
Mental Health America
Honors Leading Mental Health Advocates for Service,
Innovation and Cultural Competency

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (June 11, 2007) — Mental Health America honored four mental health leaders for their dedication to improving the mental health of all Americans at the Closing Night Dinner of its Annual Meeting, Bringing Wellness Home, in Washington D.C. on June 9, 2007.

“These award winners exemplify the exceptional energy, commitment, dedication and creativity necessary to fight against mental health stigma,” said David Shern, Ph.D., president and CEO of Mental Health America. “Our four honorees today have greatly improved the lives of countless Americans through their tireless efforts to improve our nation’s mental health.”

Innovation in Programming Award — Mental Health Association in New Jersey and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey

Mental Health Association in New Jersey and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey received the Innovation in Programming Award for their CHOICES program. CHOICES is a consumer-driven initiative that strives to meet the needs of smokers with mental illnesses by increasing awareness of the importance of addressing tobacco use and by creating a strong peer support network that encourages mental health consumers to make a positive healthy lifestyle change by addressing smoking and tobacco use. Through its peer-to-peer approach, CHOICES has reached more than 2,000 people.

CHOICES is featured on Chiming In, the brand new podcast from Mental Health America - www.mentalhealthamerica.net/go/chimingin

An article about CHOICES, written by Dr Jill Williams, was published in the September issue of Psychiatric Services. Click here to read the article about the CHOICES Program.
Williams JM.  Using Peer Counselors to Address Tobacco: the CHOICES Program.  Psychiatric Services 2007; 58(9): 1225.

We're on TWITTER As a way of staying in touch with people we meet at site visits and health fairs, CHOICES has created a twitter account.  We will use this account to post news, updates, and share valuable health information.  Please follow us on twitter at @NJCHOICES

Mental Health Agencies or Self-Help Centers in New Jersey. Our peer advocates are available to come to your site to talk to consumers. Call us today at 732-235-8232.



CHOICES - 317 George Street, Suite 105, New Brunswick, NJ 08901 - Phone: 732-235-8232

Last Updated 12/27/16