Docs who intervene may prevent teen smoking, study finds

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smokeWhen it comes to teen smoking, primary care physicians shouldn t butt out.

New recommendations from the U.S.Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), published simultaneously in the influential journals Annals of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics, suggest that the dangers of smoking, when broached by the family doctor rather than friends or family, are more likely to influence teenagers to quit the habit, or better yet, to never start.

In a series of studies, children and teenagers were less likely to pick up the bad habit when counseled or educated by a doctor on the dangers of smoking, according to data from the USPSTF. This intervention is important, experts say, highly due to the fact that 90 percent of smokers in the United States start before age 18. Surveys from 2009 show 8.2 percent of middle school students and nearly 24 percent of high school students reported using tobacco products, according to the Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC).

The new evidence has shown that even the smallest efforts from doctors help: one intervention included an information pamphlet for patients and their families, as well as a 28-minute video, and two follow-up phone calls to offer counseling on the mailed items. Another more intense intervention required children or teenagers and their parents to participate in group counseling for more than seven weeks, along with take-home activities.

The panel says, the key message in every level of intervention should be the same: to focus on knowledge about smoking, consequences of smoking, influences of social environment, tobacco marketing awareness, and parent-child communication. "Even very minimal interventions... had substantial effects on reducing smoking initiation," according to the update.

ACSH Medical Director Dr. Gilbert Ross agrees. It may be that some doctors underestimate the power they wield to influence their patients behaviors. And that power is most effective when the patient is at a young, impressionable age. But all patients deserve the brief, simple intervention of advising them not to smoke, or if they do, to quit. Docs should be available to lend support and advice and they should make sure their patients know that that could be more effective even than the patches and gums most primary caregivers suggest to help smokers quit. There is simply no excuse for neglecting this simple, important task.

Any of our readers with questions about how to quit smoking should contact ACSH and Dr. Ross via e-mail: rossg@acsh.org.