A recent CDC report (MMWR 65:1457) reports that the incidence of at least one quit attempt/yr has increased from 50% to 55%. That may sound encouraging but that also means that, despite stigmatization, taxes, smoking restrictions, free treatment in most states, almost half of smokers tried to stop. In addition, the CDC reports that 32% of smokers say they are not at all interested in quitting. Also only 31% used a treatment when they tried to quit and only 5% used counseling by phone or in person.
Although this may sound discouraging, one must put this into perspective that only about 25% of those with an alcohol/drug abuse or other psychiatric disorder seek treatment (NEJM 352: 2515). In addition, among smokers and alcohol abusers who stop, about 75% did so without treatment (AJPH 86:966). In addition, the CDC results and other results do suggest that my pet hypothesis of hardening is not happening – at least at the population level (but maybe among those seeking treatment). Finally, the prevalence of quitting among adult smokers is not changing much in this survey, suggesting that the decline in the prevalence of smoking is mostly due to fewer kids taking up smoking rather than more adults quitting.
Over the last decades, we have introduced several new treatments and found some of them are clearly more effective, yet smoking cessation has not increased in the US. This, to me, suggest just developing better treatments will not decrease the prevalence of smoking in adults.
But this does not bother me one bit. And that’s because, I have decided that my aim is not to produce science that will decrease the prevalence of smoking. It’s to produce science that will help individual smokers to stop. If in my career I had an impact on making an extra 100 smokers stop, then I would have added 50-100 years of smokers enjoying their kids and grandkids, etc. Not bad for a life’s worth.