Marian Benjamin

On July 7, the CDC reported that in the past 2 years, more than 1 billion people worldwide had been newly protected by tobacco-control interventions, which include media campaigns, graphic health warnings, and smoke-free policies. More than 1 billion people now live in countries with legislation requiring large graphic health warnings on every cigarette package.

In the United States, the FDA has been given broad powers to regulate the tobacco industry. In March 2010, it announced rules that severely restrict the way the tobacco industry can advertise and sell cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products, especially marketing efforts designed to appeal to children and teenagers. The rules, which went into effect June 22, 2010, ban tobacco companies from sponsoring sporting and entertainment events; outlaw free cigarette samples and give-aways of nontobacco items with the purchase of tobacco; prohibit the sale of “kiddie packs”—packs of fewer than 20, which make them more affordable; restrict tobacco products in vending machines and self-service displays to adult-only facilities—and then only behind the counter; forbid tobacco sales to children younger than 18; and provide for federal enforcement against offenders.

In a further step, on June 21, 2011, the FDA released nine new warning labels, which become mandatory in September 2012, that show graphic images of the consequences of smoking. The labels, which must cover at least 20% of the cigarette package, come as the share of Americans who smoke has fallen from 40% in the 1970s to 20%. The rate has stalled since 2004. No one can say how many people quit because of labels, but studies suggest that labels do spur people to quit.

Labels aside, we know that what gets people to quit smoking are effective smoking cessation counseling and programs that support people’s efforts to quit.

Respiratory therapists are in a special position to promote smoking cessation, especially for those suffering from asthma, COPD, and other respiratory disorders, which are caused by or exacerbated by smoking.

Hospitalization offers an opportunity for RTs to initiate or offer smoking cessation counseling; but, surprisingly, less than 25% of RTs ask about smoking status every time, and less than 30% have had training in provision of smoking cessation. Respiratory patients may be in more urgent need to stop smoking, but they also may find it more difficult to quit after years of smoking. As RTs, you can help these patients by taking time to advise them about quitting, helping them plan a quit date, getting them self-help materials, following up with motivation, and referring to smoking cessation programs. And not just older patients, talk to your young patients, too. More than 3,400 young people smoke their first cigarette daily, and more than 2.8 million US smokers are under the age of 18.

There may be no health care profession that sees so close up the devastating effects of cigarette smoking than do RTs. So, if you don’t already, ask the question and offer support and quit-smoking resources. Make your patients tobacco free!

—Marian Benjamin