Survey: Most Smokers Want to Quit

But Study Shows Only 1/3 of Smokers Use Counseling or Medication to Help Them Quit

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on November 10, 2011
From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 10, 2011 -- Ask anyone who has ever tried or even succeeded: Quitting smoking is not easy. Two-thirds of U.S. adults who smoke really do want to quit, and more than 50% of adult smokers have really tried during the past year,a survey shows.

But quitting can sometimes be easier said than done. This may be because many smokers don't have all the tools they need to be successful.

The survey shows that more than half of smokers who want to quit have not been counseled by a health care professional on how they can kick the habit for good.

And just one in three people said they used counseling or quit-smoking medication to aid their efforts during the past year. Both of these methods can double or triple a smoker's likelihood of quitting for good.

The new findings are published in the Nov. 11 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The survey appears just a week before the Great American Smoke Out. This American Cancer Society event encourages smokers to use this date to quit for at least one day to help encourage them to permanently stop smoking.

Trying to Quit Smoking

According to the survey:

  • 68.8% of adult smokers in the U.S. say they want to quit.
  • 52.4% of current smokers attempted to quit in the past year.
  • 48.3% of smokers recalled getting quit advice from a health care professional.
  • 1 in 3 smokers used counseling and/or medication to quit smoking.

The survey is based on data from 2010 in the National Health Interview Surveys. It included information on smoking status from 27,157 people aged 18 or older.

Quit attempts included smokers who stopped smoking for more than one day during the past year as well as those who had quit smoking within the past year.

About 45.3 million U.S. adults still smoke despite the long list of dire health consequences associated with this habit, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, and lung disease. So how can we bridge the gap between people who want to quit and those who actually do so successfully?

"That is the big question," said Tim McAfee, MD, MPH, during a news briefing. He is the director of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health. "The good news is that we have a series of well-tested policy-level and individual-level interventions, all of which work."

He says that one of the best ways to accomplish this lofty goal is to keep moving forward with policy changes that make it easier for smokers to do what they want to do: quit successfully. These include bans on smoking in public spaces, including outdoor areas. State programs aimed at reducing smoking have also been successful and should be encouraged and expanded.

"We also need to do more to address the issue of price," he says. "The tobacco industry is trying to undercut the price of tobacco to keep people smoking."

Role of Doctors

Doctors can also do their part to get their patients to stop smoking for good. The new report suggests that the number of smokers who have been advised by a health care professional on quitting is slightly lower than what has been seen in previous reports. This doesn't necessarily imply that doctors are dropping the ball. The order of survey questions was tweaked from previous surveys, so that could explain the finding.

"Other national data sets that examined whether smokers are getting advice to quit from their doctors have seen no change, so this slight decrease may not be real," says study researcher Ann Malarcher, PhD. She is the senior scientific advisor in the epidemiology branch of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health.

McAfee says doctors should discuss available quit-smoking medications and methods with smokers. There are more quit-smoking medications available today than ever before. These include nicotine-replacement patches, gum, lozenges, nasal sprays, and inhalers. Varenicline (Chantix) and bupropion (Zyban) are also FDA-approved to help people quit.

"Doctors should not be ganging up on, harassing, or making people feel bad about smoking because a large majority want to quit," he says.

Len Horovitz, MD, says that it is "do ask, do tell" when it comes to discussing smoking with your doctor. He is a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

Quitting is not easy, and it doesn't always happen the first time you try, but it's possible, he says.

Doctors can also help navigate some of the rough patches for smokers that are trying to quit. "I discuss personal triggers and give alternatives," he says. "A lot of times all they really want to do is take a deep breath to relax, and they can do it without smoke in their lungs."

Show Sources


Ann Malarcher, PhD, senior scientific advisor, epidemiology branch, Office on Smoking and Health, CDC.

Tim McAfee, MD, MPH, director, Office on Smoking and Health, CDC.

Len Horovitz, MD, pulmonary specialist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City

Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Nov. 11, 2011.

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