An influential government panel of doctors and scientists is recommending that primary care physicians take a more active role in stopping youth from experimenting with tobacco products. That’s a significant departure from a decade ago, when the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) found insufficient evidence that smoking intervention and counseling by primary care doctors would have a substantial effect on curbing youth smoking.
Over 18 percent of high school students and 4.3 percent of middle school students say they’ve smoked one or more cigarettes in the last month, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). That amounts to nearly 4,000 children and teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 who try smoking for the first time every day. Tobacco use contributes to approximately 450,000 preventable deaths every year.
The USPSTF argues that primary care doctors are well-suited to stopping minors from picking up the habit because they may interact with both them and their parents in a medical setting. Intervention efforts may include counseling or simple education about the harmful effects of tobacco, and could go a long way toward mitigating the effects of tobacco advertising that is often subtly aimed at kids. Studies have shown that teens’ propensity to become regular tobacco users increases rapidly for every ten tobacco ads they see.
“We are pleased to be publishing these recommendations simultaneously with Pediatrics,” said Christine Laine, MD, MPH, FACP, editor-in-chief of Annals of Internal Medicine. “Youth tobacco prevention is an important public health issue that requires layered intervention. Internal medicine physicians who treat both adolescents and adults are uniquely positioned to provide education and counseling to children and their parents.”
New research gave the task force an empirical reason for change its recommendation. A review of various youth tobacco intervention programs found that primary care doctors can reduce tobacco initiation rates 19 percent by talking to patients and their parents about the risks of smoking.
Despite the general downward trend in teen smoking — which is at an all-time low — primary care doctors may have their work cut out for them with the emergence of sophisticated new smoking techniques such as “e-cigarettes.” Some health advocates worry that the hi-tech design and advertising behind the products are a subtle way of appealing to younger generations.