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  • Doctors Urged to Help Smokers Quit

    Posted on December 15th, 2011 Patricia No comments

    Millions of smokers in the United States who want to quit might now receive more help from their doctors. On June 27, the Department of Human and Health Services’ (DHHS) Public Health Service issued the report “Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence.” Its effect is to spur primary care physicians to provide more assistance to the people who want to quit smoking.

    Put together by the Tobacco Use and Dependence Guideline Panel, representatives from the federal government, nonprofit organizations and DHHS staff, this report updates the 1996 guideline to reflect current scientific research and findings regarding tobacco addiction.

    The report was published as a guide for healthcare professionals in their efforts to help patients quit smoking. Key recommendations of the updated guideline include treating tobacco dependence as a chronic condition and utilizing treatments identified as effective. It further suggests that every patient who uses tobacco be offered at least one form of recommended treatment.

    Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Of particular importance to the DHHS were study findings that indicated tobacco users trying to “kick the habit” were not receiving effective care from health professionals. In fact, only about 50 percent of smokers who see a doctor are actually advised to stop.

    “The good news is that many of these smokers want to quit. But the bad news is that it’s not easy to break free from the addiction of tobacco,” said Surgeon General David A. Satcher, in a Public Health Service audio news release.

    Rather than placing blame on physicians and other healthcare professionals, the updated guideline is intended for use by practicing clinicians trying to get their patients to stop smoking.

    “This guideline promises to decrease the enormous burden of illness, death and economic costs that result from tobacco addiction in our society,” said Dr. Michael Fiore, the panel’s chair.

    Studies show that 70 percent of adult smokers in the United States want to quit. While the guideline emphasizes that smokers can benefit from different forms of counseling and social support, it does note that each patient’s willingness to quit should be considered.

    Other findings and recommendations include:

    Brief treatment for tobacco dependence is effective.

    There’s a strong association between the effectiveness of tobacco dependence counseling and its intensity.

    Three kinds of behavioral and counseling therapies were found to be reliable and should be used with all patients who want to stop using tobacco: problem solving/skills training; social support as part of treatment; and social support outside of treatment.

    Clinicians and other health professionals (including administrators, insurers and purchasers) should be consistent in the identification, documentation and treatment of every tobacco user seen in a healthcare setting.

    The guideline challenges health plans to pay for tobacco cessation treatments, given the evidence that smoking-cessation treatments work at a much lower cost than other smoking-related medical treatments. Currently, less than 50 percent of health plans pay the low cost of treatment.

    “It is a shame that many health insurance plans fail to cover smoking cessation methods,” said Dr. Gilbert Ross, medical director of the American Council on Science and Health. “It is very short-sighted, given the dreadful rate of quitting without assistance, and the long-term health consequences from continued smoking.”

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