Don’t Quit on Quitting: Smoking Cessation Still an Important Focus

John Seffrin, CEO of the American Cancer Society, made the point at last week’s meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative that tobacco control should remain the highest priority in combatting chronic disease.  It’s a point we’ve certainly echoed on this blog – that efforts to curb tobacco use shouldn’t be relegated to the second tier just because they’ve been around a while and have made some great strides.

There’s still a long way to go.

In the United States alone, although smoking prevalence has dropped from around 43 percent in 1965 to 20 percent in 2009, tobacco remains the leading cause of cancer and a major contributor to other serious chronic diseases.

A great deal of tobacco control efforts focus rightly on keeping youth and young adults from starting smoking, yet 47 million Americans are currently smokers who stand to benefit a great deal from stopping.  Risk of stroke and heart attack drop significantly within a year after stopping, as does the risk of lung cancer within 10 years.

This week’s New England Journal of Medicine helps put some of the focus back on cessation with a very nice guide for doctors on helping the smokers they see in their practices successfully quit (link).  The take away, not surprisingly, is that quitting it tough, but with a little effort from both doctor and smoker – and the right interventions – chances for successful quitting can increase dramatically.

In the face of a 24 hour news cycle always looking to report on the newest, the most exciting health innovations – tobacco control can often be left behind – a victim of its own success.  It’s important, though, that tobacco control – including efforts to boost cessation – remain a top priority in public health.  No other efforts have quite as much potential benefit, even if some people wrongly view them as yesterday’s news.

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