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Smoking Continues to Remain Undertreated, Study Reports

Update Date: Jun 24, 2013 12:04 PM EDT

Smoking is the number one leading cause of preventable death within the United States. Since smoking can lead to several health complications, such as lung and oral cancers, health advocates, politicians and federal agencies have modified anti-smoking campaigns with the goal of preventing new smokers and getting old smokers to quit. Although these campaigns do work to a certain extent, tobacco use could also be curbed under closer supervision from doctors who are the only people that can provide an individual assessment of one's health and why one should quit smoking. Despite this fact, a new study found that primary care physicians are still undertreating smokers in terms of their smoking habits when compared to other chronic diseases.

In this study, researchers from Yale University and Harvard University reviewed the data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, which compiled information from 2005 to 2007. The researchers calculated that only 4.4 percent of tobacco users were prescribed medication after a doctor's visit. This percentage is extremely low when compared to the 57. 4 percent of patients who receive care for hypertension. The researchers also found that 46.2 percent of diabetic patients and 42.6 percent of patients with asthma received treatment options and medications.

The researchers theorized that the lack of treatment for smoking could be due to the fact that it is still considered a behavioral problem and not a chronic illness. Since smoking is a choice, doctors might not feel like they have the right to force their patients to stop. Even though doctors cannot actually force patients to stop, the researchers suggest that physicians could be doing more in treating smokers, by providing better option treatments. By offering medications and treatment plans, doctors can follow through with their patients and track progress or find other options when no progress is being made.

Similarly to obesity, before the American Medical Association (AMA) declared it a disease, it was not treated as diligently because the condition was viewed as a personal choice. By defining obesity, it now places pressure on physicians to follow through on weight loss goals and treatment options as opposed to mentioning weight loss once or twice but never doing anything about it.

"A compelling argument has been made that tobacco use should be reframed as a chronic disease and treated as other chronic conditions such as diabetes," Dr. Steven L. Bernstein, associate professor of emergency medicine from Yale said reported by Medical Xpress. Bernstein is the study's lead author. "Our study suggests that this has not occurred."

The findings of this study were published in the American Journal of Public Health.

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