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Pediatricians report low knowledge, comfort discussing e-cigarettes



Pediatricians appear less comfortable discussing e-cigarettes and their harms with adolescents and parents than they do discussing dangers of tobacco products, according to a recent study.


“Providers are aware of the increased prevalence, harms [of e-cigs] and [the] positive impact of counseling teens about e-cigs,” said Allison Heinly, MD, of Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, R.I., and her colleagues. But, “providers are less likely to ask, advise, or assist parents [and teens] regarding e-cig use, compared to tobacco, and are less comfortable doing so.” The researchers presented their findings at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting.

A variety of concerns exist regarding ingredients in e-cigarettes, Dr. Heinly noted, including nicotine, volatile organic compounds, carcinogenic chemicals, flavorings, and ultra-fine particles.

Dr. Heinly and her associates aimed to assess pediatricians’ knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors toward both teens’ and parents’ use of e-cigarettes, as well as the barrier pediatricians perceived when it came to screening and counseling those who use e-cigarettes.

Among 69 providers at a large Northeastern urban academic primary care clinic who received surveys, 62 responded, primarily residents (84%). The respondents included 44 pediatric residents, eight triple-board residents, and 10 attending physicians.

The researchers collapsed “most of the time”/“always” and “some of the time”/“never” responses into two categories.

Most of the respondents (82%) knew e-cigarettes are the most common tobacco product that youth use, and nearly all (97%) believed e-cigarettes were addictive and harmful to users’ health. In addition, most (79%) believed using e-cigarettes could be a pathway toward students beginning to use other drugs.

Even though respondents believed counseling teens about use of tobacco or e-cigarettes can reduce the likelihood that they will start using them, providers were much less likely to discuss e-cigarettes than tobacco with teens.

Nearly all the doctors (97%) reported asking teens about their use of tobacco, but only about half (52%) asked about e-cigarette use (P less than .001). And only about one in five doctors (21%) reported counseling teens about using e-cigarettes, compared with 47% of those who advised teens regarding tobacco use (P = .002).

Over a third of responding physicians (37%) reported helping adolescent patients quit using tobacco, but just 7% reported doing so with e-cigarettes (P less than .001).

Doctors overwhelmingly reported feeling comfortable talking about tobacco with teens (98%), but fewer felt comfortable discussing e-cigarettes (77%; P less than .001). Respondents similarly were less comfortable discussing e-cigarettes (55%) than tobacco (87%) with parents (P less than .001).

Very few pediatricians asked parents about their use of e-cigarettes (5%) or advised them about e-cigarettes’ harms (7%), and even fewer reported helping parents quit using them (2%). By contrast, more than half of pediatricians (60%) asked parents about smoking or advised them about tobacco use harms (52%), and nearly one-third (31%) reported helping parents quit smoking (P less than .001 for all comparisons).

The biggest barrier to discussing e-cigarettes with families was, as with discussing tobacco, not having enough time. But about twice as many respondents cited insufficient knowledge as a barrier for e-cigarettes as for tobacco (P = .003). A small percentage of respondents (less than 20%) also reported feeling unsure about the harm of e-cigarettes (P = .001).

Lack of training was a significant barrier to physicians’ discussion of e-cigarettes as well. Many more physicians reported receiving training in medical school on tobacco and traditional cigarettes (78%) than on e-cigarettes (13%), possibly because of how recently e-cigarettes have become widely available (P less than .001).

More physicians reported receiving training related to e-cigarettes during residency (36%), but it still fell well short of how many reported other tobacco and smoking training during residency (61%; P = .001).

The findings “emphasize the importance of increasing training about e-cig counseling,” Dr. Heinly and her associates concluded.

The researchers noted no external funding or disclosures.

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