U.S. Smokers Have Unequal Access to Cessation Assistancev

Not all smokers have the same chance of getting medical assistance to quit, a U.S. study has found.

For the study, researchers examined survey data from a representative sample of American adults. All the participants had seen a health professional at least once in the past year, and were either current smokers or had managed to quit during that time.

Researchers wanted to know what factors might influence the likelihood that participants had received advice from a clinician on how to quit smoking or been prescribed smoking cessation aids. 

“We found several disparities in receipt of cessation assistance,” the study team wrote in their report, published June 1 in JAMA Network Open.

People were more than twice as likely to receive cessation assistance if they had a regular place to get preventive care, the researchers found. People in their seventies were more than twice as apt to get help quitting as adults under 30.

Other factors that improved people's odds were being insured, having a diagnosis of a chronic lung disease, and being a heavier smoker. Those with a prior cessation attempt were also 53 percent more likely to get help to try again.

Compared with white people, Black smokers were 19 percent more likely to get cessation assistance, but the odds were 41 percent lower for Hispanic, American Indian or Alaskan Native people than for white people.

Where people lived also mattered. Compared with the Northeast, smoking cessation help was 18 percent less likely in the Midwest, 35 percent less in the South, and 34 percent less in the West.

And, compared with rural areas, people were 63 percent more likely to get help when they lived in small and medium-size metropolitan areas.

“These findings highlight the pervasiveness of disparities associated with smoking cessation assistance based on sociodemographic variables,” the study team concluded.

More than two-thirds of adult smokers express a desire to quit, and more than half of them try quitting, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But fewer than 1 in 10 adult smokers succeed in quitting.

A lack of help from healthcare providers may be part of the problem. In 2015, only about 57 percent of adult smokers reported getting advice from a clinician about how to quit, and less than one third of them used counseling or medication to help them kick the habit, according to the CDC.

When doctors do speak to their patients about quitting, just a little time can make a big difference. Even a discussion lasting under three minutes improves the likelihood of cessation, according to the CDC.

Free smoking cessation help is available at 800-QUIT-NOW.