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Sep 07, 2017

Hospitals Miss a Golden Opportunity to Help Heart Patients Quit Smoking

After a heart event is a prime time to encourage medication to help smokers quit.

Many hospitals miss a golden opportunity to help patients quit smoking, based on a recent study that found 40% of U.S. hospitals fail to offer smoking cessation medication to patients with heart disease.

Published in JAMA Internal Medicine, this study included nearly 37,000 smokers hospitalized for heart disease—the majority of which were hospitalized for heart attack. The goal was to see how many patients received smoking cessation treatment during their stay, as patients may be more motivated to make lifestyle changes after a heart event.

Overall, only 23% of patients received at least one smoking cessation treatment during their visit. The average age of participants was 58 and nearly 70% were male.

The most common smoking cessation medication used was the nicotine patch, while additional treatments included nicotine gum, nicotine lozenge and inhalers. Patients were significantly more likely to receive smoking cessation therapy if they had other health issues such as lung disease, depression or alcohol abuse.

Researchers found that the biggest factor that influenced treatment, however, was the hospital. The highest performing hospital started 64% of patients on smoking cessation treatment, while more than 40% of hospitals administered treatment to less than 20% of eligible patients.

An analysis of past data also showed that from 2004 to 2011, initiation of smoking cessation treatment increased by 6% among U.S. hospitals, although progress slowed toward the end of this period.

The take-home message, according to authors, is that most hospitals are missing an important opportunity to help patients quit smoking. For patients with heart disease, quitting smoking is one of the best ways to reduce risk for heart events, along with healthy lifestyle changes. Patients may be more willing to quit smoking during their hospital visit after a life-threatening heart event.

Findings also show that some hospitals are doing better than others at starting heart patients on smoking cessation treatment. Authors hope findings will push doctors and hospital leaders to take a closer look at their performance and take steps to increase the use of smoking cessation treatment.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Are the health effects of smoking irreversible?

  • Absolutely not. Smokers experience many benefits by quitting, some of which begin just minutes after stopping smoking. Twenty minutes after quitting, blood pressure and heart rate will drop, and the benefits continue to improve over time. One year after quitting, risk of heart disease will be half that of a smoker; within years, risk for stroke, heart disease and other health conditions can equal that of a non-smoker.
  • What smoking cessation aids exist to help smokers quit?

  • A variety of tools exist to help smokers quit. Aside from quitting cold turkey without the use of aids, adults can be prescribed smoking cessation drugs that help to fight nicotine withdrawal and tobacco cravings. There are also various types of nicotine replacement therapy, including patches, inhalers, lozenges, gum and nasal spray that can help wean smokers off of cigarettes.

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