Ideally, nothing less than the truth should suffice – but according to a newly released poll, about one in 10 people opt to conceal their smoking status from their health provider.
The survey, which involved 3,146 American adults who were either current or former smokers and was conducted by Legacy, a national public health organization, offers some interesting insight into the evolving social attitudes surrounding tobacco use – namely, a stigma that seems to be making it harder for some smokers to confess their habit to a doctor. About 13 percent of those who participated in the poll said they didn’t tell their doctor that they smoked.
According to the survey findings, smokers had a variety of reasons for concealing their tobacco use. Some were ashamed; others didn’t want to be nagged or lectured. But what’s especially noteworthy is this: The more stigmatized they felt, the less likely they were to disclose their smoking status.
The poll uncovered another interesting fact: Although the majority of smokers said they were honest with their doctor about whether they smoked, 25 percent did not seek help from a doctor or nurse during their most recent attempt to quit – and hence may have missed out on an important source of support.
Public health policy in the United States is strongly focused on reducing tobacco use. One of the key strategies has been to make it so uncomfortable to smoke – via higher cigarette taxes, smoke-free restaurants, higher health insurance premiums and so on – that people are either motivated to quit or discouraged from taking up the habit in the first place.
There’s evidence that it all contributes to making a difference. According to the most recent figures available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of American adults who smoke declined from 20.9 percent in 2005 to 19.3 percent in 2010.
It’s worth asking, though, whether efforts to make smoking socially unacceptable might reach a point of diminishing returns. In an accompanying news release, Cheryl Healton, president and CEO of Legacy, notes there’s been “a significant shift in the social climate” surrounding tobacco use in the U.S. in recent years.
“As an unintended result of higher prices of cigarettes, increased measures to ban smoking in public places, and create smoke-free workplaces, many smokers may feel marginalized and less compelled to discuss smoking with their physicians and other providers,” she said.
And when smokers don’t want to disclose their habit for fear of being judged, “it becomes a missed public health opportunity” to connect them with resources that might help them quit, Healton said.
The findings from the survey prompted Legacy to put together a guide that helps clinicians discuss tobacco use with their patients in ways that are sensitive and appropriate rather than stigmatizing. Although it’s ultimately up to smokers to decide to quit, how health providers approach the issue clearly does seem to matter.
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