Patients Could Use More Help Quitting Smoking

FRIDAY June 18, 2010 -- Many U.S. health professionals fail to offer programs, plans or prescriptions to help patients quit smoking, finds a new study.

Researchers surveyed different types of health care providers -- primary care and emergency physicians, psychiatrists, nurses, dentists, dental hygienists and pharmacists -- and found that reasons for failure to follow national guidelines for helping patients kick the habit include the providers' own tobacco use, perceptions of patient attitudes about quitting, a lack of training in smoking-cessation interventions, and a feeling that it wasn't part of their professional responsibilities.

The University of California, Davis research team found that nearly 99 percent of survey respondents said they ask patients if they smoke and nearly as many warn patients about smoking risks. But far fewer health care professionals actually assist patients in getting the help they need to quit smoking.

For example, 87 percent of registered nurses said they ask if a patient smokes and 65 percent said they advise smokers to quit. But only 25 percent said they help smokers set a quit date. The low rate of assistance was similar among all health professionals, except primary care doctors, who set a quit date for patients 60 percent of the time, according to the report.

Being asked about smoking by more than one type of health care provider improves the likelihood that a patient will quit, the study authors noted.

"We know that [health care] provider advice is one of the simplest and most important things to help a smoker to try to quit and stay quit. Providers are not doing enough. It should be a priority for all health professionals, not just primary care physicians," study author Dr. Elisa K. Tong, of the division of general medicine, said in a UC Davis news release.

The study is published online in advance of print publication in the July issue of the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

More information

The American Cancer Society offers a guide to quitting smoking.

Posted: June 2010


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