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Many Doctors Misinformed About Nicotine's Risks

Less than one-third of doctors correctly agree that nicotine directly contributed to birth defects

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 16, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Most doctors hold misperceptions about the risks of nicotine, according to research published online Sept. 1 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Michael B. Steinberg, M.D., M.P.H., from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and colleagues surveyed 1,020 physicians to explore their knowledge and communication about tobacco use. Respondents represented the specialties of family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, cardiology, pulmonary/critical care, and hematology/oncology.

The researchers found that the majority of physicians "strongly agreed" that nicotine directly contributes to the development of cardiovascular disease (83.2 percent), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD; 80.9 percent), and cancer (80.5 percent). Fewer respondents "strongly agreed" that nicotine directly contributes to the development of birth defects (32.9 percent). Female doctors were more likely than male doctors to correctly perceive nicotine risks for birth defects (adjusted prevalence ratio, 1.28), as were younger physicians. Compared with other specialists, more obstetricians/gynecologists misidentified the risk related to birth defects, and more pulmonologists misperceived nicotine as a direct contributor to COPD.

"Correcting misperceptions in medicine should be a priority given the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's proposed nicotine-centered framework that includes reducing nicotine content in cigarettes to nonaddictive levels while encouraging safer forms of nicotine, like nicotine replacement therapy, to help with smoking cessation or noncombustible tobacco, like smokeless tobacco for harm reduction," a coauthor said in a statement.

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