SMOKERS misperceive the time-frame within which smoking-related conditions occur, believing that mild and severe ailments emerge later in life than non-smokers believe they do, according to researchers from the University of Milano-Bicocca, Milan, Italy and the University of Surrey, Surrey, UK. The findings of the recent study highlight a lack of understanding of the damage smoking can cause, which could increase the risk of developing smoking-related conditions, including lung cancer.
In the first study of its type, the team tested the knowledge of 162 smokers and non-smokers on the onset of mild (yellow teeth, bad breath) and severe (lung cancer, stroke) smoking-related health conditions, using a survey. The participants predicted when they believed such conditions might occur in an individual who starts smoking 10 cigarettes a day at 18 years old.
On average, smokers thought that both mild and severe smoking-related conditions would develop later in life than non-smokers thought they would. An additional finding was that the participants’ perceptions of risk and their level of fear were directly associated with the time estimates given for the onset of mild conditions, but not for severe conditions. The researchers believe this is due to a perception that severe smoking-related conditions like lung cancer develop much later in life.
The team argue that this lack of awareness among smokers could significantly increase their risk of developing these types of conditions. Dr Patrice Rusconi, University of Surrey, commented: “The adverse consequences of smoking are well documented, but what we have found is that smokers perceive such hazards to be further in the future compared to those who don’t smoke. This distorted perception is incredibly dangerous for those who do smoke, and may lead people to delay quitting smoking or screening for smoking-related conditions, increasing their risk of developing a serious illness.”
With smoking the primary cause of preventable illness and death in the UK, placing a major strain on the health service, new strategies to encouraging people to stop smoking are essential. This study suggests that targeting smokers with information about when smoking-related conditions can develop could persuade more to attend screenings or to stop smoking entirely.
James Coker, Reporter
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