The number of smokers lighting up on hospital grounds has fallen about 7% points since 1995, but roughly one in five still smoked during their hospital stay, according to a US study.
The findings, which appeared in the Archives of Internal Medicine, reflect the experience of Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital, where past research found that 25% of hospitalised smokers reported smoking on the grounds in 1995.
The study surveyed patients who smoked and were referred to the hospital's tobacco treatment program between 2007 to 2010, finding that the number of smokers lighting up during their entire stay fell to 18.4%.
One explanation for the decline, according to the researchers, may be the increased use of nicotine replacement therapy patches, lozenges, gum and inhalers. At this hospital, the use of nicotine replacement therapy increased more than twelve-fold from 1995 to 2010.
"It is encouraging that there has been improvement, but it's discouraging that the nicotine replacement therapy has not been able to put more of a dent into this," said lead author Susan Regan, an instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Regan and her colleagues said they cannot say for sure that the nicotine replacement therapy is the reason for the decline.
How the study was done
For one thing, the study only included patients in the hospital's tobacco treatment program while the previous study included all patients who smoked. The researchers wrote that those who refused to take part in the program may have been more likely to sneak a smoke.
As for smokers who still smoke while hospitalised, Regan said that some may just not be ready to quit. "Many smokers are interested in quitting. Some are interested but not ready, and some are just not interested, " she said.
The study, which followed about 400 smokers, found that certain characteristics were linked to a person being more likely to abstain from smoking, including being over 50 and having heart problems.
The Joint Commission, a nonprofit group that accredits more than 19 000 hospitals and other healthcare facilities, already prohibits US hospitals from allowing smoking in their buildings. But patients and staff may smoke outside the buildings, unless the hospital bans that too.
In Massachusetts General's case, the hospital allows smoking at two smoking shelters on its property. Regan noted that the results are based on only one hospital, and the conditions it faces may not be the same as others. "If you did it (the study) in a warm weather state, you might find more patients who are more likely to go out and smoke. But we don't know," Regan said.
(Reuters, November 2012)
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