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University of Iowa News Release

June 16, 2003

UI Study: Pharmacists Valuable Resource For Smoking Cessation

Trying to quit smoking? Looking for a qualified source for advice and counseling to help you quit? You might want to consider your community pharmacist.

A University of Iowa study, published in the May 2003 edition of Pharmacotherapy: the Journal of Human Pharmacology and Drug Therapy, suggests that pharmacists can be an effective resource for smoking-cessation intervention.

Community pharmacists are ideally situated to potentially help smokers quit for several reasons, said Mary Aquilino, Ph.D., assistant professor of community and behavioral health in the UI College of Public Health, and lead author of the study.

"Pharmacists have consistent contact with patients over a long period of time, making them an excellent and accessible resource for brief interventions, such as smoking-cessation counseling," she said.

Pharmacists are trusted health care providers who interact with a large, diverse patient population. One-on-one, patient-to-pharmacist interaction is routine, and advice can often be obtained without direct or additional cost to the patient, Aquilino noted.

Due to the increased availability of non-prescription aids such as the patch and nicotine gum, it is likely that pharmacists might be the only health care contact a smoker has before or during an attempt to quit.

"Pharmacist and patient relationships are often much more conducive to conversation and have greater opportunities for discussion in comparison to a busy physician's office," Aquilino said.

The study consisted of a two-part, 30-question survey sent to a random sampling of 363 Iowa pharmacists. Researchers found that 99 percent of pharmacists said it was important for pharmacists to provide smoking-cessation counseling. Nearly half of the pharmacists surveyed said this was extremely important.

The survey also found that 57 percent of pharmacists said they already provide suggestions for quitting smoking on a routine basis. Sixty-seven percent felt they were able to respond at least most of the time to patient requests for smoking cessation treatment options.

"We believe that pharmacists with the proper training and motivation can, in fact, intervene with patients and help them succeed in quitting smoking," Aquilino said.

Community pharmacists might not have all the answers, however. A couple of factors were found to stand between pharmacists and successful, consistent intervention. Other health care providers, such as doctors and nurses, are formally trained to be health care educators, but patient education has not, until recently, been seen as the part of a pharmacist's role, Aquilino said. Increased education and training can help pharmacists step into the role of smoking-cessation counselors.

"Offering counseling is just one more thing that pharmacists can do," she said. "With increased training, their ability to offer these services will likely increase."

Medical doctors and registered nurses are routinely provided with models and materials to help them implement activities that support quitting smoking. Typically, such materials are not made available for pharmacists, Aquilino said.

Based on the survey responses, the researchers found that many pharmacies do not have a program that allows them to identify patients who smoke from those who do not. Pharmacists also said that low patient requests for smoking-cessation materials and advice do not help put such issues high on pharmacists' priority lists.

Previous studies have found that successful quit rates increase from 2 percent to as high as 15 percent with intervention as minimal as simply advising a smoker to quit. Adding pharmacological treatment (prescription or non-prescription) along with behavioral support can increase success rates to as high as 25 percent, Aquilino said.

"Increased training for pharmacists, programs to aid the identification of smoking patients, along with increased public awareness of pharmacists as a valuable resource could all play a role in helping them become an even stronger cessation aid," Aquilino said.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5135 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: David Pedersen, 319-335-8032, Writer: Tiffany Bronk