US Urges Smokers to Kick the Habit with Medication
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. surgeon general on Tuesday urged doctors and insurance companies to prescribe and pay for medication that can help millions of Americans stop smoking.
Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher released guidelines intended to show doctors and smokers how to quit successfully. The report identified the various therapies -- including drugs, nicotine gum, patches, inhalers and counseling -- that can help smokers kick the habit.
``There has never been a better time for health professionals to help their patients break free from the deadly chronic disease we know as tobacco addiction,'' said Satcher.
``Starting today, every doctor, nurse, health plan, purchaser, and medical school in America should make treating tobacco dependence a top priority,'' he said.
President Clinton issued an executive memorandum directing all federal departments and agencies to encourage their employees to stop or never start smoking and to provide information on proven smoking-cessation treatments.
``Tobacco addiction and related health disorders pose one of the greatest public health threats facing our nation today,'' Clinton said in a statement. ``Over 400,000 Americans die every year from tobacco related diseases -- more than AIDS, illegal drugs, alcohol, fires, car accidents, murders and suicides combined.''
The Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement that smoking is the single biggest preventable cause of illness and premature death in the United States.
It said people who smoke are at increased risk of heart disease, cancer and other smoking-related illnesses that contribute to more than 430,000 deaths a year. Nationwide, medical care costs attributable to smoking or smoking-related diseases have been estimated to be more than $50 billion annually.
The guidelines released on Tuesday, which will be included in the June 28 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, provide new information on the most effective counseling strategies and recommend five specific medications that can help increase quitting rates.
Millions Of Smokers Try To Quit -- And Fail
Dr. Michael Fiore, who chaired the panel that developed the guidelines, said studies show 70 percent of the 50 million smokers in America say they have tried to quit smoking at least once but had failed.
``Every year about 20 million smokers try to quit, but only about one million of them stay off,'' said Fiore, director of the Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. ``The reason is the majority of them try to quit cold turkey and have failed.''
He compared tobacco dependence to other chronic diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes that require repeated medical intervention before they can be controlled.
According to Fiore, less than half of insurance plans pay the $200 to $400 it costs to help those covered by the plans to quit smoking although they do pay for the treatment of diseases caused by smoking such as heart attack, stroke and cancer.
The guidelines call for tobacco dependence to be considered a chronic disease, and recommend that ``clinicians be reimbursed for providing tobacco dependence treatment just as they would be for other chronic conditions.''
``We actually have more potential today to effectively treat tobacco dependence than we do any of the other chronic diseases in the United States,'' Fiore said, adding that the panel's investigations showed how much better a person can successfully quit using certain medications than on their own.
``It's our hope that with the release of these guidelines, the number of people who quit each year will at least double to two million,'' he said.
The guidelines are aimed at doctors -- many of whom say they have not been adequately trained to help their patients stop smoking -- insurers, and smokers.
In his statement, Clinton also urged Congress to approve his budget proposal to ensure that every state Medicaid health insurance program for the poor covers prescription and non-prescription smoking cessation drugs.