Quitting smoking is hard.
More Americans are doing it — in 2005 just over 20 percent of adults reported a smoking habit, and by 2016 that figure had fallen to around 15 percent. But over 30 million Americans still report smoking every day or some days. But even among those tens of millions of smokers, the majority report wanting to quit. According to the CDC, 68 percent report wanting to quit, but being unable to.
Telemedicine firm Ro — best known for its online erectile dysfunction treatments — is now in the business of helping smokers get clean. For $129 a month, smokers can subscribe to the Zero Quit Kit, which is advertised as a multi-pronged and end-to-end approach to offering up services to give smokers a better chance to kick their habit.
The math, Ro said, is simple. Though about half of all smokers attempt to quit each year, only about 3 percent successfully do so for more than six months using willpower alone. But layering in other factors changes those odds. Using a patch or gum gets the odds closer to 10 percent, counseling increases the odds further to 15 percent and adding medication to the mix pushes things into the 30 percent range.
The options are out there, but consumers still find quitting an incredibly uphill climb, largely because it is not easy for people to actually put all the pieces together on their own. When every piece of the smoking cessation process is a separate undertaking, the odds go up dramatically that the now stressed-out consumer is going to decide to just go buy a pack of smokes instead.
“They go to the doctor and the doctor says, ‘Great, here’s a prescription,’” Zachariah Reitano, Ro’s CEO and co-founder, told Vox. “Then it’s maybe 45 minutes to the pharmacy, then it’s a wait for 45 minutes, and then they also have to figure out which gum to chew, and then they also have to download an app. There are so many steps where someone can, frankly, mess up or not have everything they need.”
Quitting is going to be hard no matter what. Unlike subscription services that are selling access to shoes, food, Mexican candy or the myriad of other products that are fun to receive in the mail throughout the month, Zero is sending customers a kit to do something that almost no one in history has ever viewed as a fun experience. Zero Quit Kits are not advertised as making quitting easy, according to the firm — but instead as functioning more like “a water bottle and a backpack” for a hiker at the base of a long trail. It is going to be hard work no matter what, but at least they’ll have everything they need within reach.
The subscription program starts with a consultation with a doctor for $15 that ends with a recommended personalized quit program. If you think Zero might do the trick, it doesn't come cheap. The doctor-recommended Zero Quit Kit costs $129 per month, but the customer also has the option of purchasing individual elements of it for $42 a month. That is a better deal financially than smoking — the average price a pack-a-day smoker pays in the U.S. is $150 a month (and in high cost urban markets that number can be closer to $300 or $400) — though there are less expensive smoking cessation mechanisms on the market.
Mechanisms that Ro says it is in full support of — because according to Ro other nicotine cessation firms aren’t their competition.
“If someone else does a really great job in helping people quit smoking, more power to ’em. When it’s something that’s as important as smoking, which is the leading cause of preventable death in the world, we’re just kind of rooting for everyone except for the people that are encouraging people to smoke,” Reitano said.
The competition, he asserted, is the tobacco industry, which brought in $93.4 billion in 2016, or the eCigarette market that grew 40 percent to $1.16 billion in 2017. Smokers may not like smoking — and there are fewer of them. But those who remain are paying more, and not finding the right support they need to quit. The hope is with the right kit, they might be able to make a bigger dent in those figures.
“Smokers don’t need to be reminded that it’s bad for them. So when they want to quit, [we want to be] kind of a judgment-free place,” says Reitano.