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Smokers come under scrutiny on Smokeout day

November 20, 2008 |  9:33 am

Nurses1Who still smokes -- and why? Those are questions researchers have begun to address as the nation today observes the 32nd Annual Great American Smokeout. Smokers are urged to quit smoking today in hopes that this day might lead to permanent smoking cessation.

But addiction experts acknowledge that it has become more difficult to make a dent in the country's smoking rates. Although millions of people have quit in the decades since the dangers of tobacco became known, about 43.4 million U.S. adults still smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Two recent studies point to the challenges in curbing smoking rates.

  • A study released at the recent meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians found that nicotine dependence has reached a 15-year high. Nearly 75% of people currently seeking smoking cessation treatment are categorized as highly nicotine dependent. "Previous studies suggest that individuals who have less severe nicotine dependence have already been successful at quitting, which leaves a larger percentage of patients who are highly nicotine dependent among the greater tobacco-using community," says the study's author, Dr. David P. Sachs, of the Palo Alto Center for Pulmonary Disease Prevention. Sachs says that more individualized tobacco-dependent treatments are needed to address addiction severity.
  • Even some nurses, who see the devastating illnesses linked to smoking, have trouble quitting. A study published in the current issue of Nursing Research examined data from the 237,648 nurses registered in the Nurses' Health Study at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. The study found death rates among former smokers in their late 70s were 1.5 times those of nonsmokers. Current smokers were 2.3 times more likely to have died by that age compared to nurses who never smoked. Smoking among nurses declined from 33.2% in 1976 to 8.4% in 2003. But, says the study's lead author, Linda Sarna of the UCLA School of Nursing: "Nurses witness firsthand how smoking devastates the health of their patients with cancer and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Yet nurses struggle with nicotine addiction like the rest of the 45 million smokers in America."

The Great American Smokeout is an invitation for smokers to take the first step toward quitting forever. For more information and help with tobacco cessation, call 1-800-784-8669 or visit the 1-800-Quit-Now website.

By the way, the Smokeout started in a small town in Massachusetts in 1971. A high school guidance counselor named Arthur Mullaney asked people to give up cigarettes for one day and donate the money they would have spent to a college scholarship fund. A few years later, the editor of a Minnesota newspaper, the Monticello Times, organized that state's first D-Day, or "Don't Smoke Day. In 1976, the California Division of the American Cancer Society adopted the idea and re-named it the Great American Smokeout. The rest is history. Unfortunately, smoking still isn't.

-- Shari Roan

Photo: A 1943 Saturday Evening Post cover of a nurse helping her patient light up. Credit: UCLA