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Major medical organizations join CDC's anti-tobacco campaign

Ads are tagged with messages for people to ask their physicians to help them quit smoking. “Doctors can help a lot,” the agency's director said.

By — Posted May 31, 2013

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Five national physician groups are partnering with the federal government on a campaign that will encourage patients to talk to their doctors about quitting smoking, a conversation that some health care observers said doesn't take place often enough during routine visits.

Each year, more than 440,000 Americans, “more than 1,000 of our fellow citizens every day, [are] killed by smoking,” said Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He was speaking at a Washington event on May 22 to announce the CDC's new alliance with the physician groups. For everyone who dies, there are about 20 more who will live with serious illness for many years, Dr. Frieden said.

More than 70% of smokers see a doctor each year, yet most who try to quit often don't seek the professional assistance that could increase significantly their likelihood of succeeding, Dr. Frieden said. In an opinion piece on the website of The Journal of the American Medical Association, Tim McAfee, MD, MPH, director of the CDC Office on Smoking and Health, observed that doctors “have made major strides over the past two decades in helping smokers quit but still fall short of making cessation treatment a routine part of standard care” (link).

In Dr. Frieden's view, every adult smoker who is not pregnant should be offered and would benefit from medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration to help them quit. “Doctors can help a lot” in this effort, he said.

Participating organizations in the “Talk With Your Doctor” campaign include the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The campaign is encouraging doctors to ask patients if they smoke and provide them with advice on how to quit.

As part of this campaign, from May 27 through June 23, the CDC was including a message on its “Tips From Former Smokers” advertisements urging people to quit and talk to their physicians for help. The ad campaign features testimonials from seriously ill individuals on how smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke adversely affected their health (link).

When doctors talk, patients listen

In his article, Dr. McAfee suggested that physicians could use the CDC's “Tips” campaign to broach the issue of quitting smoking with patients.

Even a brief conversation with a doctor increases the chances that a smoker will quit and remain smoke-free a year later, said Patrice A. Harris, MD, a member of the AMA Board of Trustees, during the event in Washington. Tobacco cessation is one intervention that's crucial to improving outcomes of heart disease and diabetes, she said. Smoking raises blood sugar levels, making it harder to control diabetes, and increases heart attack and stroke risk.

“As physicians, we must start the conversation,” she said, noting that the AMA offers tools to help smokers develop a personalized approach to quitting.

Organizations also discussed efforts to keep their medical environments smoke-free. Physicians have one of the lowest rates of tobacco use in the country “because we see the effects of it every single day,” said AAFP President Jeffrey Cain, MD. “And yet many of the people who work in our offices or in hospitals who are tobacco users have higher-than-average” rates. Several representatives of the physician organizations who spoke at the CDC event mentioned initiatives to promote smoke-free environments at their respective medical campuses and hospitals.

AMA policy has advocated for the promotion of smoking bans and prohibitions on other types of tobacco use in hospitals and other medical facilities.

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