Monday, August 11, 2014

Paperwork Can Be a Powerful Anti-smoking Tool

By E’Louise Ondash, RN

There are many days when nurses feel like the paperwork never ends, but there is one nurse who makes it her mission to delve into thousands of pages of documents in order to help nurses promote public and individual health.

Ruth Malone, RN, PhD, FAAN, professor and chair in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, conducts extensive searches through documents kept by the leading U.S. tobacco companies. She does this to uncover just how they go about promoting smoking and thwarting the efforts of health care professionals to help people quit.

Malone writes that the tobacco industry “actively tries to undo nurses’ efforts at the individual level.”

For instance, the companies know that nurses may encourage patients to quit on New Year’s Day or on their birthdays. “We discovered that tobacco companies sent consumers discount coupons and other promotional offers at these specific times, hoping to weaken people’s resolve to become tobacco-free,” Malone writes.

Malone also points out that, before tobacco companies existed, people became ill from using tobacco, but not to the extent that they have in the last century. Once tobacco companies were created, they aggressively advertised and promoted their products, which were engineered “to increase addictiveness and deep inhalation.”

Somehow, she says, tobacco companies spent the last 100 years trying to convince us that smoking wasn’t harmful, and that it was still acceptable to sell a product that kills half of those who use it.

“Cigarettes would never be allowed on the market if introduced today,” Malone writes. What can nurses do to counteract the tactics of tobacco companies?

Here are some suggestions from Malone:

* Remind patients that they may not want to continue giving money to companies that have lied and deceived users about the deadliness of their products.
* Instruct patients how to recognize industry efforts to discourage them from quitting.
* Remind patients that tobacco companies have purposely engineered their products to contain increasing amounts of addicting substances.
* Tell kids and adolescents that tobacco companies need “replacement smokers” for all those who die each year using tobacco products. The companies do this by promoting tobacco use as cool and edgy.
In the spirit of full disclosure, there is no neutrality on my part when it comes to this subject.

There have been three deaths in my immediate family directly due to tobacco use, and I’ve watched other family members and friends struggle with tobacco addiction. In every case, the smoker started in his/her preteen years because they thought smoking was a “cool” and “mature” thing to do. They all expressed the desire to quit but acknowledged that it was a terribly difficult thing to do.

I’ve also been twice-deposed by a team of lawyers representing a large tobacco company and had my computer and emails “mined” for discussions with my family members about the health hazards of tobacco. Sadly, I’m only one of millions who have lost loved ones or watched them suffer terribly.

I admire Malone and her colleagues for spending hundreds or perhaps even thousands of hours delving into the communications of tobacco companies so that we have a full picture of their tactics to undermine the efforts of nurses and other health care providers.

“Nurses need to learn more about the tobacco industry so that we can all further educate the public,” Malone writes.

Have you had experience in assisting patients, family or friends to quit smoking? What has been the biggest roadblock to success?

Tell us about it.

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