Research Calls Attention to Flaws in Tobacco Strategy, Part 1

New research exposes two potential weak links in the war against tobacco-related disease.

Medical students, the future foot soldiers in this war, are not adequately trained to help smokers quit, according to a study in the Sept. 1 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). In addition, many states are not planning to use the windfall they will be receiving from the multi-state tobacco deal to fund tobacco-control programs. as confirmed in an article in the Aug. 18 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI).

These studies point towards a worrisome conclusion: the smoker who wants to quit, and the youngster contemplating lighting up for the first time, may not have access to sound advice or guidance.

As part of the monumental tobacco settlement, 46 states are slated to receive $246 billion paid out over 25 years by the U.S. tobacco industry to compensate the states for damages from cigarette-related illnesses over the years.

“We have to hope that medical school curricula and state supported programs can be re-directed into cutting off the problem at its source — stopping young people from starting to smoke,” says Gilbert Ross, M.D., medical director of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) in New York.

“It has been shown that anti-tobacco television and billboard advertising aimed at young people can lead to a reduction in teenage smoking,” says ACSH’s Dr. Ross. “Study after study has shown that if kids don’t start smoking during their teen years, they rarely take up this habit as adults. That’s why the tobacco industry targets the youth market, despite their denials.

Thus, states would be wise to allocate significant amounts of money to produce effective anti-tobacco messages,” he added, “thereby preventing the cycle of tobacco addiction, disease and premature death.”

The JAMA report, which surveyed deans from all the medical schools in the United States, found that only 55 percent of schools included the six recommended basic topics in their curricula. These topics include cancer risks from tobacco, tobacco-related disease, effects of passive smoking, cigarette smoke contents (nicotine, tar and carbon monoxide), nicotine withdrawal symptoms, and high-risk groups with the most difficulty quitting.

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