In Brief

Half of all smokers who don't quit will eventually die from a tobacco-related disease, such as lung cancer. On average, they'll be robbed of at least a decade of life, said APA member Timothy Baker, PhD, one of the speakers at a Nov. 8 congressional briefing in Washington, D.C., organized by APA's Science Government Relations staff on behalf of the Friends of the National Institute on Drug Use coalition.

The losses aren't only personal: The average smoker takes three more days of sick leave per year than a nonsmoker and loses a half-hour of every workday on smoking breaks. Combined with extra health-care expenses that costs up to $208 billion annually, said Baker, a professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

These are just some of the reasons the government should continue totake an active role in helping people quit, he said.

Baker joined a panel of experts briefing congressional staffers on the progress made in the past 50 years to cut the prevalence rate of smoking among adults, develop approaches to help people quit smoking and understand the addictive properties of nicotine.

Thirty years ago when he entered tobacco research, one in three adults smokes, and there were no effective treatments. Today, one in five adults smokes, and there are effective interventions, Baker said.

To continue that progress, Baker is among those updating the Public Health Service's (PHS) release of its clinical practice guidelines for tobacco use and dependence. The PHS will release the guidelines in May. Last issued in 2000, the guidelines give health-care providers empirically based methods that help people quit smoking. Baker delivered some good news, too: A review of dozens of smoking-cessation studies found a link between the amount of time smokers spent in counseling and quitting success.

Making a counseling session last 10 minutes instead of three minutes boosts the seven-day smoking abstinence rate from 13 to 22 percent. The review also found that medication combined with minimal counseling produced abstinence among one-fifth of smokers, and that when medication was combined with intensive counseling, about one in three smokers quit long-term, Baker said.

"Treatment of tobacco dependence is a true public health bargain, as it yields healthier, longer lives at very low cost," he said.

-C. Munsey