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'Lung Age' Shocks Smokers Into Stopping

Learning How Old Their Lungs Act Spurs Smokers to Quit Smoking in Smoking-Cessation Study
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 6, 2008 -- Cigarette smokers are more likely to quit smoking if their doctor cuts through the jargon and tells them how old their lungs are acting.

So say British researchers who tested the "lung age" strategy in 561 smokers aged 35 and older.

All of the smokers got a lung function test. And all were urged by their doctors to stop smoking and were told about local smoking-cessation clinics.

After the lung function test, doctors told half of the smokers their "lung age" and showed them a chart comparing their lung age to a nonsmoker's lung age.

For instance, a 52-year-old smoker might learn that their lung works like that of a 75-year-old who never smoked.

For comparison, the smokers in the study got a letter about their lung function test results. That letter didn't mention their lung age.

A year later, 13.6% of the smokers in the lung age group had quit smoking, compared with 6.4% of those who weren't told their lung age, according to saliva tests they took; the saliva tests verified smoking cessation.

It didn't matter whether their lung age was a lot or a little older than their chronological age.

"Presentation of information in an understandable and visual way, whether the news is positive or negative, seems to encourage higher levels of successful smoking cessation than when patients are given feedback that is not easily understandable," write the researchers. They included Gary Parkes, MB ChB, of The Limes Surgery in Hertfordshire, England.

Graphic feedback on lung age might be an opportunity for doctors to "tailor smoking cessation messages to the individual," states an editorial published with the study in today's advance online edition of BMJ (formerly called the British Medical Journal).

The editorialists included Raphael Bize, MD, of Switzerland's University of Lausanne.

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