April 2 (HealthDay News) -- More than half of smokers aren't fretting over their personal health, and almost a quarter of those who have health-care providers haven't discussed their tobacco use with that person, a new online survey shows.
The survey of more than 1,000 adult smokers, which was commissioned by an anti-smoking organization, also found that only about half of those who want to quit within the next month actually asked their doctor or other health-care provider for help.
Doctors are "very much falling down on the job," said Dr. Cheryl G. Healton, president and chief executive of the American Legacy Foundation, which sponsored the survey. "Every health provider should know that smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. For those who smoke, the single most important thing they can do to extend their lives is to quit smoking. In view of that, precious little time is spent effectively addressing that topic with patients."
The survey by Harris Interactive asked questions of adult smokers in November and December of last year. The polling company, which adjusted the results to account for factors such as race and income, said no margin of error could be calculated. Drug maker Pfizer Inc. provided funding for the study.
Ninety percent of the people surveyed reported having health-care providers, and two-thirds of those had talked to them about smoking. But 21 percent never had.
Among people who did talk to their doctors or other health-care providers or weren't sure if they had, just 44 percent received prescription medications or recommendations about over-the-counter drugs related to smoking cessation.
Regardless of whether they got prescriptions or recommendations, nearly 80 percent said they were very or somewhat satisfied with the help on quitting smoking that they received from health-care providers.
"I'm not surprised that people report satisfaction when the objective facts suggest they shouldn't be satisfied," Healton said. "Anyone who is addicted to nicotine is at least ambivalent about the concept of giving it up. It's a very uncomfortable concept since smoking is highly reinforcing and satisfying to the brain."
The survey also found that 54 percent of smokers who talked to their health-care providers about tobacco use reported negative feelings, including guilt, uneasiness, embarrassment, annoyance and pressure.
Healton, who was once a smoker herself, said that pregnant women and people with such problems as depression and alcoholism might be especially hesitant to talk about their smoking.
But doctors need to treat smokers with respect, said Dr. Norman H. Edelman, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. "Everybody who smokes was addicted as a teen or preteen," he said. "They don't deserve to be treated with scorn or as if they've inflicted this disease on themselves."
People might need to make even six or seven attempts to quit before they actually stop smoking, Edelman said. But cold turkey isn't the answer.
"The critical thing is, you can't simply stop smoking," he said. "You have to explain to them how it's done, how you need a support system and a pharmaceutical if you want the best chance of results."
As for the findings of the survey, Edelman said they highlight the fact that "physicians are not taking smoking cessation as seriously as they should."
SOURCES: Cheryl G. Healton, Dr.P.H., president and CEO, American Legacy Foundation, Washington D.C.; Norman H. Edelman, M.D., chief medical officer, American Lung Association, Chicago; April 1, 2008, survey, Harris Interactive/American Legacy Foundation