/ 6 March 2008

Telling smokers ‘age’ of lungs helps them quit

Smokers are more likely to kick the habit if they are told how ”old” their lungs are, a British study found on Friday.

The concept of lung age — measured by comparing a smoker’s lungs to the age of a healthy person whose lungs function the same — has helped patients better understand how smoking damages health, researchers had already found.

But that information is also effective in convincing smokers to quit, said Gary Parkes, a family physician in Hertfordshire outside London, who led the study published in the British Medical Journal.

”Telling smokers their lung age significantly improves the likelihood of them quitting smoking,” Parkes and his colleagues wrote.

Smoking kills about four million people each year, according to the World Health Organisation. Tobacco is highly addictive and the leading preventable cause of both cancer and heart disease.

The study in five general medical practices outside London involved 561 long-term smokers older than 35 and began with a simple test to record the volume and rate at which the volunteers exhaled air from the lungs.

One group received no detailed information about their results while the other people were given their lung age, shown a diagram of how smoking ages the lungs and told that quitting would slow the rate of damage.

Everyone was also strongly encouraged to quit and offered help to do so. One year later, saliva tests showed that 13% of the smokers told their lung age had quit while only 6% of people in the other group had stopped.

”Anybody who had good, understandable information seemed more inclined to give up,” Parkes said. ”The reason may be people had dreaded the worst and realised it was still worthwhile giving up.”

The study counters research showing such health information does not prod them to quit and underscores the benefits of early screening because 16% of the people in the study had undiagnosed emphysema, Parkes said.

Giving people this kind of information could represent a cheap and easy way to get people to stop smoking and reduce smoking-related health problems that are putting pressure on health systems to treat.

”The cost, if you like, is certainly within the economic framework of a good deal,” Parkes said. – Reuters