Officials wildly exaggerate smoking interventions efficacy

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In an op-ed in the current issue of JAMA, Dr. Howard K. Koh, assistant secretary for Health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and HHS Secretary Kathleen G. Sebelius boast about the efficacy of various interventions in curbing the tobacco epidemic. Their piece specifically highlights the effectiveness of media campaigns, higher prices, and smoke-free policies in helping smokers quit. The news would be quite welcome if only it were true.

Dr. Koh and Secretary Sebelius praise the national strategic plan for tobacco control, Ending the Tobacco Epidemic: A Tobacco Control Strategic Action Plan, enacted by the HHS in 2010. The Strategic Plan, which features four pillars that guide 21 action steps, has already led to an unprecedented array of actions across HHS and the federal government, which they outline.

The authors cite efforts to curb tobacco use such as, increased Medicare and Medicaid coverage for tobacco cessation counseling, extra funds awarded to states to enforce limitations on tobacco marketing and enact distribution laws focused on ID verification, and new campaigns like Tips from Former Smokers.

Almost everything this article says is either misleading or distorted, with the ostensible benefits of these programs wildly exaggerated, such as increasing funding for quitlines via Medicaid. Quitlines increase cessation minimally if at all, says Dr. Ross. Increasing smoking awareness campaigns and support groups will save exactly zero smokers. Unfortunately, this essay is self-praising and misguided much like that of FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg s Reuters op-ed last month.