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Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Schools of Medicine and Cancer Hospitals, with support from the North Carolina Area Health Education Centers Program, are collaborating on an innovative training program to prepare health care providers across North Carolina and the U.S. to better assist people addicted to tobacco products and help them become “tobacco free.”

James Davis, MD, Duke
Adam Goldstein, MD, UNC -Chapel Hill

CHAPEL HILL, NC – While on the decline, tobacco use remains the number one preventable cause of death and disease in our state and across our country. It is a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, stroke and many cancers. The CDC estimates that 17,000 people in North Carolina die each year from tobacco-related diseases. Seeing an important need, UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke are looking past their fierce basketball rivalry to join forces through the Duke – UNC Tobacco Treatment Specialist Credentialing Program to reduce tobacco use through prevention.

“There is a tremendous need for tobacco treatment in our state and throughout the southern region,” said James Davis, MD, medical director for the Duke Center for Smoking Cessation. “The cost of not treating tobacco use is tremendous, both in lives and dollars. We cannot win the fight against tobacco without the support of more experts in tobacco treatment.”

Davis and his staff from Duke worked with the UNC Tobacco Treatment Program (TTP) to establish and pilot the Duke – UNC Tobacco Treatment Specialist Credentialing Program.

Adam Goldstein, MD, director of UNC Tobacco Control Programs, believes the complementary areas of expertise in tobacco use treatment at both universities make this an exciting collaboration. “Duke’s work and research have focused on major advances in nicotine pharmacology, while here at UNC we have a nationally known tobacco dependence treatment program. Working with each other, and with the N.C. Division of Public Health’s Tobacco Prevention and Control Branch, we can further grow the expertise that will save more lives.”

Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialists receive in-depth training on the complexities of assisting people in managing and overcoming this powerful addiction. They learn how to help health care systems integrate tobacco dependence treatment into their day-to-day operations. And they learn how to create and prepare health policies that support tobacco-free communities.

The pilot training was designed to be experiential through the use of problem-based clinical scenarios. More than two dozen NC health professionals attended the first high-level training, which now will be offered at least two times a year.

“The teachers and physicians were amazing and really opened things up for me and explained them well,” said participant Jacqueline Gardener, RN, a public health nurse and case manager for the Richmond County Health Department. “I would highly recommend this training to others. In fact, some of the information should be included in nursing school.”

While most people have some understanding of the hazards of tobacco use, Gardener said, few understand how nicotine addiction works and how they can support someone who is trying to quit smoking or using tobacco.

Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialists include professionals such as physicians, physician extenders, nurses, social workers, dentists and dental hygienists, pharmacists and health educators. Participants receive an up-to-date manual developed by 27 experts and hands-on training from tobacco treatment and tobacco control professionals.

How did this Duke Blue and Carolina Blue collaboration happen? Sally Herndon, director of the N.C. Division of Public Health’s Tobacco Prevention and Control Branch, visited both programs and asked for their help.

“People who wanted in-depth training for treating tobacco dependence have had to travel to faraway states, such as New Jersey or Minnesota, to receive it,” Herndon said. “Tobacco cessation is more complicated than many people think. It includes information from population science, neuroscience, behavioral science, pharmacology and more,” Herndon said. “It seemed a shame to send people out of state for certification when we have the best experts in these fields right here in North Carolina.”

A grant from North Carolina AHEC will provide reduced-tuition scholarships to participants who serve communities with high levels of tobacco use and addiction. The next Certified Tobacco Treatment Special Training will be held October 19-22. Visit for details and registration information.