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Keywords:

  • smoking;
  • emergency department;
  • disease prevention

ABSTRACT

Objective: To determine smoking habits, levels of addiction, readiness to quit, and access to primary care among ED patients.

Methods: A questionnaire was administered prospectively to all non-critical adult patients who presented to one university hospital ED during 23 randomly selected four-hour time blocks; 336 (89%) of 376 eligible patients responded. Self-reported smoking was validated by carbon monoxide breath testing in a pilot sample of 49 patients.

Results: The study patients were mostly young (mean age = 35 ± 15 years), female (59%), white (62%), and high school-educated (73%). Of the 336 ED patients, 41% were current smokers (95% CI = 0.36–0.46); 42% of these were “moderately” to “very highly” dependent on nicotine (Fagerstrom Test for Nicotine Dependence > 4). Of those who smoked, 68% stated they wanted to quit, and 49% wanted to quit within the month. Fifty-six percent of all those who smoked stated that they had never been told to quit smoking by any physician. Thirty-five percent of the ED sample (118 patients) relied upon EDs for most or all of their routine, primary health care; 55% (95% CI = 0.46–0.64) of these patients were current smokers.

Conclusions: The prevalence rates of smoking and nicotine addiction among ED patients are high. Almost half of ED smokers are ready to quit, but most state they have never been told by a physician to do so. Finally, a large proportion of ED smokers receive their primary care in EDs. Therefore, the ED may be an underused setting for smoking cessation intervention.