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Six Out of 10 UK Doctors 'Think Nicotine Causes Lung Cancer'

Almost six out of 10 UK doctors incorrectly believe nicotine causes lung cancer, findings from a poll suggested.

Survey results released to coincide with the 12th annual Stoptober campaign also suggested that one in two UK doctors were "not appropriately trained" to help patients quit smoking. 

The survey of 1191 full-time practising doctors was funded by the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World and conducted by Sermo.

Results from respondents showed that 83% of physicians had at least some training on smoking cessation, but that around one in six (17%) had never had any training at all, citing that they were too busy (31%), that it was not a priority (19%), or that specific training wasn't necessary (14%). 

For those who had undergone training, over half (53%) had received this after medical school, around one in three (36%) during their time at medical school, with almost half (45%) stating they had been "self-trained".

However, training topics were widely seen as "valuable", reassured the authors, who stressed that 83% of those surveyed were "at least moderately interested" in additional training.

Negative Health Consequences Attributed to Nicotine

The online survey, conducted between 2 February and 24 March, 2022, reassuringly found that 90% of doctors who responded discussed smoking with their patients who smoked "at least sometimes", with a similar proportion (89%) considering it a "priority". 

Eight out of ten (80%) said they referred patients to smoking cessation clinics, with seven out of ten (71%) saying that they recommended over-the-counter nicotine replacements.

However, of concern was that doctors were likely to "attribute specific negative health consequences to nicotine", alerted the authors, who warned that up to 65% of doctors believed that nicotine was a "direct" cause of various smoking-related ailments, with many believing this "completely".

Of those UK doctors surveyed, 60% believed nicotine directly caused lung cancer, 59% believed it caused COPD, and head, neck, and gastric cancers, 56% said it caused bladder cancer, and around two-thirds of those surveyed (65%) "believe it causes atherosclerosis". These views were "directly jeopardising" efforts made in helping smokers quit, the survey report authors warned. The lack of training and nicotine knowledge "adversely impacts" how doctors gave smoking patients quitting and harm reduction advice, they commented.

Proper Factual Training Imperative

In 2022, an independent report for the Government, Making smoking obsolete, included recommendations for clinicians to improve their knowledge levels and offer improved advice, and to encourage the use of vaping. The new survey highlighted there was "still a lot of work to do to match the Government's ambitions", emphasised the authors.

There were "serious concerns" about the ability of UK doctors to equip patients who smoke with the most accurate and effective advice on how to quit, alerted the authors, given that the survey had revealed that half of doctors admitted they were not appropriately trained to help patients quit smoking.

"Patients place trust in doctors to give them sound health care and treatment options that can help prevent illness and disease," said Dr Muhammad Ahmed, director of health and science research, Foundation for a Smoke-Free World. "It is therefore imperative that doctors get the proper training to learn the facts about nicotine," he underlined, and stressed that it should be a top priority to ensure doctors get "concise, up to date, and evidence-based information on tobacco harm reduction and smoking cessation tools".

With Stoptober now underway, and smokers across the UK attempting to quit, there was no better time to "raise the alarm", expressed Dr Ahmed. "Millions of lives in the UK depend on it."

The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World declares that it receives "annual gifts" from tobacco company Philip Morris International (PMI) but declares that it is "independent from PMI, and operates in a manner that ensures its independence from the influence of any commercial entity".

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