Making Butts about Smoking Improves the Chance Smokers Will Quit

Stop! That one word is likely the most helpful advice health practitioners can give to their spine patients who smoke. Many times, patients will quit the habit when they are treated by a health professional who takes the time and effort to help. Too often, however, medical professionals don't bring up the issue with their patients.

Many smokers responded dramatically when their health provider makes the effort to help them quit. Researchers tracked a group of 3041 spine patients who smoked. Patients got either "usual" or "aggressive" assistance for quitting by their practitioner. The first group got a handout, and their provider occasionally mentioned the patients' habit. Providers for the other group members brought up the subject and recorded smoking status at each visit. They also gave their patients handouts and educated them about the negative impact smoking could have on their spine condition. 

Over 35% of the patients getting aggressive help quit smoking, compared to 19.5% in the other group. And more patients at least cut down on their habit when they got aggressive help (67% vs. 38%). Merely asking about a patient's habit had a drastic impact on cigarette usage.

Perhaps health providers don't bring up the issue because they fear they'll lose business. This did not happen in the research study. An equal number of patients from both groups returned for ongoing treatment.

Some patients had an easier time quitting. Quitters typically had smoked fewer packs per day and hadn't smoked for as many years. Older patients also tended to quit easier than younger smokers. The decision to quit usually happened within the first four months of treatment.

The authors conclude that health providers need to be educated on ways they can help their patients who smoke kick the habit. They believe smokers will be more successful at quitting if at each visit their habit is addressed and their smoking status is tracked. Providers need to be a source of support and encouragement for their patients. Surprisingly, using this approach to help patients quit doesn't cost a lot of money, yet the results can be dramatic.

"It is clear," conclude the authors, "that the more the health care practitioner shows an interest, the more likely the patient will stop smoking."

Glenn R. Rechtine II, MD, et al. Effect of the Spine Practitioner on Patient Smoking Status. In Spine. September 1, 2000. Vol. 25. No. 17. Pp. 2229-2233.

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