83% of the doctors inaccurately believed that nicotine directly contributed to heart disease and 81% said that it contributed to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Conducted by researchers from Rutgers University in New Jersey, the study titled “Nicotine Risk Misperception Among US Physicians” surveyed doctors from six specialties (family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, cardiology, pulmonary and critical care to hematology and oncology) to explore their knowledge and recommendations about tobacco use, between September 2018 and February 2019. A total of 1,020 doctors were asked about their understanding of tobacco treatment practices, harm reduction beliefs and tobacco and e-cigarette use.
Sadly, the compiled data indicated that 83% of the doctors inaccurately believed that nicotine directly contributed to heart disease and 81% said that it contributed to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The responses also indicated that pulmonologists were less likely than other specialties to link nicotine consumption to COPD and family doctors were more likely than oncologists to believe that nicotine causes cancer.
“Physicians must understand the actual risk of nicotine use as they are critical in the prescription and recommendation of FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapy products to help patients who use other dangerous forms of tobacco,” said Michael B. Steinberg, director of the Rutgers Tobacco Dependence Program and a professor and chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “Doctors should be able to accurately communicate these risks, which may include low-nicotine cigarettes, which are not safer than traditional cigarettes.”
Doctors’ answers varied according to their speciality
The researchers found that less than one-third of the doctors surveyed, believed that that nicotine consumption directly contributed to birth defects, while 30% did not answer the question, indicating they did not know. Younger and female doctors were more likely than males to perceive correct nicotine risks causing birth defects, while OB/GYNs surprisingly misidentified them more than other specialties.
In light of these findings, the researchers concluded that something needs to be done to correct misconceptions about nicotine consumption. “Correcting misperceptions in medicine should be a priority given the FDA’s proposed nicotine-centered framework that includes reducing nicotine content in cigarettes to non-addictive levels while encouraging safer forms of nicotine, like NRT, to help with smoking cessation or non-combustible tobacco, like smokeless tobacco for harm reduction,” said Cristine Delnevo, director of the Rutgers Center for Tobacco Studies and Professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health.
The health benefits of nicotine consumption
Meanwhile, while nicotine tends to have a bad reputation given it is normally consumed via smoking, multiple studies have indicated that it may have a positive effect on brain health. A 2016 study published in the Open Access Journal of Toxicology had found that nicotine, could play a vital role in preventing obesity, which in turn prevents brain shrinkage, and may also protect from the onslaught of Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders.
Linked to various cancers, heart disease and respiratory problems, smoking is known for being one of the biggest death causing villains of our time. Hence Dr Ursula Winzer-Serhan, lead researcher at Texas A&M University, had ensured there was no room for misunderstanding where the public could possibly deduct that the study is suggesting taking up the deadly habit of smoking.
“I want to make it very clear that we’re not encouraging people to smoke. Even if these weren’t very preliminary results, smoking results in so many health problems that any possible benefit of the nicotine would be more than cancelled out,” she emphasized.
The researcher added that nicotine consumed separately from tobacco, improves brain function and protects against cognitive decline, “..smoking is only one possible route of administration of the drug, and our work shows that we shouldn’t write-off nicotine completely.”
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