Fessing up to tobacco use

It’s a question many of us are routinely asked during a visit to the doctor: Do you smoke or use tobacco?

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.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

One thought on “Fessing up to tobacco use

  1. Do the words prohabition mean anything…Smokers are going thru what drinkers went thru then and just how well did that work out..when all of these so called experts can hand real people their original death date followed by their new death date without being hit by a freight train or falling down their stairsteps and breaking their neck have them speak a little more..there has been enough bull cr– medical research on orange juice coffee alcohol bullying and cigarettes to last the american people a life time..we are moving just one step closer with each study to a socialized country and most of these idiots we the voters have put in office even after they have told us what they were going to do..oh yes and remember don’t spank those little fingers because that is abuse but kids go ahead and threaten mom and dad and do just what you please we wouldn’t want to hurt your poor tender feelings even though you do grow new ones (living proof)..where is MN going to get the extra kickers from when everyone quits smoking..if you have never been there booze is just as deadly and i don’t see anyone sueing anheizer busch or jack daniels when their liver takes a dump or their brain is fried…being fat is just as discusting to look at in a resturaunt as the smell of cigarrettes but i have never saw a fat person turned away from a buffet..smokers go outside to eat when weather permits and the fat slobs are setting right there belly aching about the smoke..they won the inside of the building fare and square yet they have to come to the outside and belly ache really give the smokers a break..

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