Smokers Remain Unaware of the Health Effects of Smoking, New Survey Finds

Tuesday, November 13, 2007 General News
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PITTSBURGH, Nov. 13 Despite major efforts to educate thepublic on the dangers of smoking over the past 40 years, a new national surveyconducted by the American Legacy Foundation and GlaxoSmithKline ConsumerHealthcare, an industry leader in smoking cessation, indicates major knowledgegaps exist in what smokers believe to be true about the risks associated withsmoking compared the actual realities of tobacco-related disease and death.Experts believe these misperceptions may prevent smokers from trying to quitand successfully utilizing proven smoking cessation treatments.

According to the survey, while many smokers are aware that smoking canlead to serious health problems including lung cancer, many underestimate therisk of getting the disease from smoking. For example, two in three smokersunderestimate the chance of developing lung cancer compared to a non-smokerand four in 10 incorrectly believe that developing lung cancer depends more ongenes than anything else. Furthermore, the survey found that up to a third ofsmokers think that certain activities such as exercise and taking vitaminscould "undo" most of the effects of smoking.(1)

"What is alarming about these survey findings is that so many smokers arestill so misinformed," said Dr. Cheryl Healton, president and CEO of theAmerican Legacy Foundation. "Proven cessation treatments like nicotinereplacement therapy continue to be underutilized and we believe thesemisperceptions are partly to blame. These findings point to the fact that moreneeds to be done to educate and inform smokers."

Misperceptions about the effects of nicotine found in cigarettes remain atthe forefront. Almost all survey respondents (81 to 86 percent) either wereunsure whether, or incorrectly believed that, nicotine caused cancer,emphysema or heart attacks.(1) While smoking has been proven to cause cancer,heart disease, and lung disease, long-term use of NRTs are not known to beassociated with any serious harmful effects.(2) These nicotine-relatedmisperceptions can prevent consideration and appropriate use of smokingcessation aids such as nicotine replacement therapies (NRT).

The survey findings indicate smokers dramatically underestimate the safetyand efficacy of NRT products such as the nicotine gum, patch and lozenge. Morethan 76 percent of smokers surveyed wrongly believe that, or do not knowwhether, NRTs are more addictive than cigarettes, highlighting the need forfurther education as cigarettes are vastly more addictive.(3,4) In fact, abouthalf of the smokers surveyed stated they would be more likely to consider NRTif they were shown scientific evidence that prove its safety and efficacy.(1)

"The survey reveals that when smokers try quitting with NRT they do notuse enough of it or use it for as long as directed on the products label,"said Bill Slivka, President Smoking Control, GlaxoSmithKline ConsumerHealthcare. "Study after study shows that, when used correctly, these productsdouble a smoker's chances of quitting versus cold turkey.(7) The reality isthat most smokers need some type of support when quitting smoking."

While research shows the majority of smokers try to quit "cold turkey," onany given quit attempt, only 3-5 percent of smokers who quit cold turkey aresuccessful long-term.(8) Tools for cessation such as NRTs, social support, andcounseling have been proven to greatly increase the chances of a successfulquit attempt.(9) But the survey revealed that almost three-quarters (72percent) of smokers surveyed believe that quitting is "just a matter of willpower." (1) In reality, many smokers need support to address the addiction tonicotine and smoking. Smokers making a quit attempt should utilize resourcessuch as counseling opportunities to help understand what to expect and how tohandle the tough situations when quitting, and also consider safe andeffective stop-smoking products.


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