Just a few minutes of convincing talk with patients willing to quit smoking, can help doctors encourage them to kick the butt, say researchers.
The review led by Lindsay Stead, of the University of Oxford in England involved 41 studies of more than 31,000 smokers. It revealed that doctors who take a few minutes to talk with patients about their smoking or maybe passing along a leaflet or a sample of nicotine gum can help them quit successfully.
"Assuming an unassisted quit rate of 2 to 3 percent, a brief advice intervention can increase quitting by a further 1 to 3 percent," wrote reviewers.
The investigators examined the studies conducted between 1972 and 2007. and pooled data from 17 trials.
They found that a brief advice compared to no advice can significantly increase the quit rate among the group that got some kind of counsel from a physician.
"Cessation interventions are typically highly cost-effective, so even a very small improvement in effect from intensifying the intervention could well be cost-effective," said Stead.
The majority of smokers require not one, but several quit attempts, to stop smoking for good.
Abigail Halperin, a physician-researcher specializing in prevention and treatment of tobacco-related diseases at the University of Washington recommended that if even half of the patients are advised by their doctors to quit smoking a generous estimate would quit.
"This would have a huge impact on public health, since tobacco-related diseases are by far the nation's largest contributor to disability and premature death - not to mention health care costs," she said.
"In the two programs where I work, we assist patients in developing a quit plan, provide practical counseling, and prescribe nicotine replacement therapy or other medication to ameliorate withdrawal symptoms, and are seeing 25- to 35-percent quit rates," she said.
The study appears in the latest issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration.