Big Progress with Smoking

A remarkable public health advance is happening and has not received much attention.  A recent commentary (MC Fiore. NEJM 2016; 375: 1410-12) highlights the substantial and accelerating progress in lowering the use of tobacco/smoking.

The author notes that the rate of decline in smoking is now about 0.78 percentage points per year during the Obama administration which is more than double the rate during the prior 16 years.  This decline, if continued, could mean that the current rate of smoking of 15.3% of U.S. adults could be zero by around 2035.

The author notes that the current administration likely deserves some of the credit for this progress due to legislative acts and leadership.  Legislation has included increases in federal cigarette excise taxes, more FDA oversight of thousands of tobacco products, and better insurance coverage of smoking cessation through the Affordable Care Act. Leadership has involved the CDC, FDA and HHS.  This has led to comprehensive strategic plans which have developed effective educational campaigns, including “Tips from Former Smokers” and “The Real Cost.” More steps to build on this progress has been outlined in the 50th-annisversary of the Surgeon General’s report, The Health Consequences of Smoking (2014).

Potential Further Actions:

  • Further increases in cigarette excise taxes
  • Sustain high-impact national media campaigns
  • Public housing mandates to make smoke-free
  • Federal legislation to ban any tobacco products to persons younger than 21 years
  • Extend smoke-free indoor-air protections to all Americans

My take: This is great news.  Hopefully, there will be a big drop from >36 million Americans who smoke to many fewer in coming years.  This can reduce premature deaths which are expected for about half of people who continue to smoke.

New Family Member: Charlie!

New Family Member: Charlie!

Briefly Noted: Inflammatory Bowel Disease Updates

Gut Microbial Diversity is Reduced in Smokers with Crohn’s Disease. JL Opstelten et al. Inflamm Bowel Dis 2016; 22: 2070-77.  This study compared stools from 21 nonsmoking patients with Crohn’s disease (CD) with 21 smokers with CD.  Smoking was accompanied by a reduced relative abundance of multiple genera.  My take: It is unclear whether smoking’s effect on the microbiome directly contributes to worsened outcomes or whether the changes in the microbiome are only an epiphenomenon.  Regardless, smoking increases the likelihood of worse outcomes in CD.

A Systematic Review on Infliximab and Adalimumab Drug Monitoring Levels, Clinical Outcomes and Assay. F Silva-Ferreira et al. Inflamm Bowel Dis 2016; 22: 2289-2301. This review selected 20 studies from an initial query of 1654 articles. Key points:

  • Different studies are difficult to compare due to distinct assays with different limitations. Thus, specific cutoffs are based on the specific assay used.
  • The authors state that proactive monitoring may be helpful at week 6, 14, 30 and 54 for infliximab.  They recommend checking infliximab level and antidrug antibodies in those with loss of response, mucosal ulceration or elevated biomarkers (eg. CRP, Fecal calprotectin).

Common Sense: Lifestyle Intervention in Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

“Common sense is not so common” –Voltaire

A recent study (E Ness-Jensen et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2016; 14: 175-82) reviewed the literature and identified 15 original studies which met inclusion criteria regarding lifestyle interventions in gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Key findings:

  • Weight loss lowered esophageal acid exposure in 2 RCTs: 5.6% –>3.7% and 8.0%–>5.5% and reduced reflux symptoms in prospective observational studies
  • Tobacco cessation reduced reflux symptoms in normal-weight individuals in a large prospective cohort study OR 5.67
  • Head-of-the-bed elevation decreased supine acid exposure from 21% to 15%.
  • Early evening meals decreased supine acid exposure by 5.2% point change.

My take: With the increasing incidence of obesity, these type of lifestyle modifications need to be implemented in our teenagers with GERD.  For those who want to decrease use of medications, these interventions, if emphasized with conviction, are a good first step.

GERD cover

Lost Decade from Smoking

A recent study (NEJM 2015; 372; 631-40) showed that smoking is more deadly than previously estimated.  Key points:

  • Deaths per year due to smoking: a new analysis suggests the true figure may be closer to 575,000.  That equates to 1 death in every 5 in the United States.
  • Smoking is thought to shorten life expectancy by more than one decade!
  • The 21 causes of death that have been officially blamed on smoking accounted for only 83% of the actual deaths among smokers

Here’s a link to a summary of the article:  Cigarette Smoking is Even More Deadly Than You Thought (from LA Times)

Related blog post:

From NPR: Enormous Ice Formations at Niagara Falls:

From NPR

From NPR

Quitting Smoking Associated with Better Mental Health

Given the amount of information about the negative consequences of smoking that is currently available, some might say that you would have to be mentally-ill to start smoking.  The good news is that stopping smoking has been associated with improvements in mental health (BMJ 2014; 348: g1151 dii 10.1136/bmj.g1151 -thanks to Mike Hart for this reference).  Free full-text BMJ article PDF

From Abstract:

Design Systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies.

Eligibility criteria for selecting studies Longitudinal studies of adults that assessed mental health before smoking cessation and at least six weeks after cessation or baseline in healthy and clinical populations.

Results 26 studies that assessed mental health with questionnaires designed to measure anxiety, depression, mixed anxiety and depression, psychological quality of life, positive affect, and stress were included…. the standardised mean differences (95% confidence intervals) were anxiety −0.37 (95% confidence interval −0.70 to −0.03); depression −0.25 (−0.37 to −0.12); mixed anxiety and depression −0.31 (−0.47 to −0.14); stress −0.27 (−0.40 to −0.13). Both psychological quality of life and positive affect significantly increased between baseline and follow-up in quitters compared with continuing smokers 0.22 (0.09 to 0.36) and 0.40 (0.09 to 0.71), respectively). There was no evidence that the effect size differed between the general population and populations with physical or psychiatric disorders.

Conclusions Smoking cessation is associated with reduced depression, anxiety, and stress and improved positive mood and quality of life compared with continuing to smoke. The effect size seems as large for those with psychiatric disorders as those without. The effect sizes are equal or larger than those of antidepressant treatment for mood and anxiety disorders.

Figure 2 shows the relationship of the individual studies and the mental health outcomes.  In every study except one, there was improvement in those who quit smoking, though many of the studies had confidence limits that indicated that the results did not meet statistical significance.

Bottomline: This study indicates that quitting smoking can improve rather than worsen mental health.

Zip Code or Genetic Code -which is more important for longevity?

From NY Times:

An excerpt:

Fairfax County, Va., and McDowell County, W.Va., are separated by 350 miles, about a half-day’s drive. Traveling west from Fairfax County, the gated communities and bland architecture of military contractors give way to exurbs, then to farmland and eventually to McDowell’s coal mines and the forested slopes of the Appalachians. Perhaps the greatest distance between the two counties is this: Fairfax is a place of the haves, and McDowell of the have-nots. Just outside of Washington, fat government contracts and a growing technology sector buoy the median household income in Fairfax County up to $107,000, one of the highest in the nation. McDowell, with the decline of coal, has little in the way of industry. Unemployment is high. Drug abuse is rampant. Median household income is about one-fifth that of Fairfax.

One of the starkest consequences of that divide is seen in the life expectancies of the people there. Residents of Fairfax County are among the longest-lived in the country: Men have an average life expectancy of 82 years and women, 85, about the same as in Sweden. In McDowell, the averages are 64 and 73, about the same as in Iraq….           

There have long been stark economic differences between Fairfax County and McDowell. But as their fortunes have diverged even further over the past generation, their life expectancies have diverged, too. In McDowell, women’s life expectancy has actually fallen by two years since 1985; it grew five years in Fairfax.

“Poverty is a thief,” said Michael Reisch, a professor of social justice at the University of Maryland, testifying before a Senate panel on the issue. “Poverty not only diminishes a person’s life chances, it steals years from one’s life.”

That reality is playing out across the country. For the upper half of the income spectrum, men who reach the age of 65 are living about six years longer than they did in the late 1970s. Men in the lower half are living just 1.3 years longer.

This life-expectancy gap has started to surface in discussions among researchers, public health officials and Washington policy makers. The general trend is for Americans to live longer, and as lawmakers contemplate changes to government programs — like nudging up the Social Security retirement age or changing its cost-of-living adjustment — they are confronted with the potential unfairness to those who die considerably earlier.

The link between income and longevity has been clearly established. Poor people are likelier to smoke. They have less access to the health care system. They tend to weigh more. And their bodies suffer the debilitating effects of more intense and more constant stress. Everywhere, and across time, the poor tend to live shorter lives than the rich, whether researchers compare the Bangladeshis with the Dutch or minimum-wage workers with millionaires.

But is widening income inequality behind the divergence in longevity over the last three decades? …

Living in Fairfax is different than living in McDowell.

In Fairfax, there are ample doctors, hospitals, recreation centers, shops, restaurants, grocery stores, nursing homes and day care centers, with public and private entities providing cradle-to-grave services to prosperous communities…

The jobs tend to be good jobs, providing health insurance and pensions, even if there is a growing low-wage work force of health aides, janitors, fast-food workers and the like. “It’s a knowledge-based work force,” Mr. Fuller said. “And we have an economy built on services, technology-intensive services.”

…350 miles away, …

Coal miners still dig into and blast off the tops of steep Appalachian hills. But the industry that once provided thousands of jobs is slowly disappearing, and the region’s entrenched poverty has persisted. The unemployment rate is 8.8 percent, down from more than 13 percent in the worst of the recession. The current number would be even higher if more residents hadn’t simply given up looking for work.

Government assistance accounts for half of the income of county residents. Social workers described shortages of teachers, nurses, doctors, surgeons, mental health professionals and addiction-treatment workers. There is next to no public transportation…

Many people … have multiple woes: “Diabetes. Obesity. Congestive heart failure. Drug use. Kidney problems. Lung conditions from the mines.” Problems often start young and often result in shorter lives, she said. Earlier that day, she handed me a list of recent funerals with about half highlighted in yellow; they signified that the deceased was under 50…

But dollars in a bank account have never added a day to anyone’s life, researchers stress. Instead, those dollars are at work in a thousand daily-life decisions — about jobs, medical care, housing, food and exercise — with a cumulative effect on longevity…

As such, the health statistics for Fairfax and McDowell are as striking as their income data. In Fairfax, the adult obesity rate is about 24 percent and one in eight residents smokes. In McDowell, the adult obesity rate is more than 30 percent and one in three adults smokes. And the disability rate is about five times higher in McDowell.

In both counties, food availability matters. There are only two full-size grocery stores in McDowell; minimarts and fast-food restaurants are major sources of nutrition. “We don’t have gyms or fitness centers,” said Pamela McPeak, who grew up in McDowell getting creek water to flush her family’s toilet. “It’s cheaper to buy Cheetos rather than apples.” She now runs a nonprofit program that provides tutoring and helps high school students get into college.

Education is also correlated with longevity, as it is with income and employment. Educated individuals are much more likely to work, and much more likely to have higher incomes. In McDowell, about one in 18 adults has a college degree; in Fairfax, the share is 60 percent.

Finally, and perhaps most powerfully, researchers say that a life in poverty is a life of stress that accumulates in a person’s very cells. Being poor is hard in a way that can mean worse sleep, more cortisol in the blood, a greater risk of hypertension and, ultimately, a shorter life…

It is hard to prove causality with the available information. County-level data is the most detailed available, but it is not perfect. People move, and that is a confounding factor. McDowell’s population has dropped by more than half since the late 1970s, whereas Fairfax’s has roughly doubled. Perhaps more educated and healthier people have been relocating from places like McDowell to places like Fairfax. In that case, life expectancy would not have changed; how Americans arrange themselves geographically would have…

In particular, changes in smoking and obesity rates may help explain the connection between bigger bank accounts and longer lives. “Richer people and richer communities smoke less, and that gap is growing,” said Dr. Murray at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation…

To some extent, the broad expansion of health insurance to low-income communities, as called for under Obamacare, may help to mitigate this stark divide, experts say. And it is encouraging that both Republicans and Democrats have recently elevated the issues of poverty, economic mobility and inequality, But the contrast between McDowell and Fairfax shows just how deeply entrenched these trends are, with consequences reaching all the way from people’s pocketbooks to their graves.

Related blog posts: