How much does education about the specific risks of smoking assist in smoking cessation?
A version of this article was originally published on Drug Topics. This version has been lightly edited.
Chronic diseases are responsible for nearly three-fourths of worldwide deaths every year, and the World Health Organization says that 14% of those deaths are attributable to smoking. Telling people that smoking kills is not breaking news; for decades, data have shown the risks that smoking poses to our bodies. But oftentimes, statistics about the dangers of smoking are ineffective in changing the lifestyles of those who smoke regularly, either due to a lack of education regarding the dangers of smoking, indifference, or both.
Authors of a study published in Plos One1 examined both whether stronger health education could compel individuals with smoking habits to quit, and where education regarding smoking falls short. Researchers sought to understand the “risk perception, behaviors, attitudes, and experiences related to smoking and smoking cessation among patients with chronic diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, and/or diabetes.”
The study cohort included 30 individuals in Hong Kong, with a mean number of 28.2 smoking years. Over 60% of participants consumed over 20 cigarettes per day.
During the study, multiple themes emerged—a popular one being that, although participants all understood the risks of developing a chronic lung disease from smoking, more than half were not aware that smoking exacerbates the risk of other chronic diseases as well. “They shared the mistaken belief that chronic diseases other than lung-related ones were caused solely by ageing and not by smoking,” the researchers observed.
Other common themes included participants not believing that quitting smoking would improve existing chronic conditions. Said one participant, “I already have a chronic disease and it is too late to quit smoking. Even if I quit smoking now, I don’t see any benefit to my existing disease.”
In addition to issues around education and knowledge regarding the pitfalls of smoking, many participants made clear they simply have no interest in quitting, placing other unhealthy habits higher on their priority list than smoking.
Prior research2 has shown that smoking does not relieve stress or anxiety over extended periods of time, but often provides instant comfort. In a stressful world, it’s hard to place blame on individuals looking for quick comfort or stress relief in the form of smoking.
Instead, the researchers suggest more robust health education that specifically teaches individuals about the link between smoking and chronic illnesses of all types, not just in the lungs. And for individuals who have already been smoking for a long period of time, awareness of services that could potentially help them is crucial. “Health care professionals need to be proactive in introducing and promoting smoking cessation services among patients with chronic diseases, given that the study findings showed that most participants were unaware of such services and had low motivation to join such programs,” the researchers wrote.
There’s no one way to help people quit smoking, but a more full awareness of how smoking negatively impacts the human body may be a start.
1. Ho LLK, Li WHC, Cheung AT. Helping patients with chronic diseases quit smoking by understanding their risk perception, behaviour, and smoking-related attitudes. PLoS One. 2023;18(4):e0284690. doi: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0284690
2. Smoking and mental health. Mental Health Foundation. Accessed April 27, 2023. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/a-z-topics/smoking-and-mental-health