Smoking and Surgery: Even Short-term Quits Can Improve Outcomes

Smoking and Surgery: Even Short-term Quits Can Improve Outcomes

You likely know quitting smoking reduces the risk of serious problems like cancer. What may surprise you is the relationship between smoking and surgery.

Here’s why understanding this connection matters for employers and health plans, especially right now:

COVID-19 has created a massive disruption for elective surgeries, creating an ongoing backlog.

To cope with stress from the pandemic, there is higher tobacco use and fewer people using quitlines for support to quit.

Smoking puts individuals at increased risk for problems, such as wound infections, heart problems like heart attacks, and lung problems like pneumonia, during and after surgery.

Quitting smoking can dramatically decrease chances of developing costly and serious postoperative complications.

The longer patients can stay off cigarettes around the time of surgery the better, but new evidence shows that even just not smoking on the morning of surgery has benefit.

Ways to help individuals quit smoking before—and after—surgery

Research shows that just having surgery will increase the chances that smokers will quit and that getting help will further increase their chances.

Unfortunately, most of those facing surgery are not offered this help by their doctors or other healthcare providers.

A recent study shows that although most physicians report consistently advising their patients who smoke to quit, only about a quarter provided them any help in quitting according to guideline recommendations.  It’s not that these professionals don’t care, but many don’t have the time or the training to help.

For this reason, my team and others have worked on specific methods that can help surgical patients quit.

For example, research shows that digital interventions such as text messaging can be effective in helping smokers quit.  We’ve found that such interventions are well-received by surgical patients and can be tailored to their particular needs.  Patients also need to know that they have easy-access quit support available to them.

Act now to positively impact outcomes

Employers and health plans can play an important role in helping employees and members better understand the need to quit tobacco prior to any surgery.  The result will be improved postoperative  outcomes and a reduction healthcare costs because postoperative complications caused by smoking are expensive.

The time to act is now.

Built in collaboration with Mayo Clinic, the EX Program provides personalized digital and human-powered support to quit tobacco. For more information on the EX Program, please visit the Program page.

David Warner
David Warner, M.D.

Professor of Anesthesiology, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science

David O. Warner, M.D., is a Professor of Anesthesiology in the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science. Dr. Warner serves as the Director of Education for the Mayo Clinic Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCaTS), Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs for the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine, and President of the American Board of Anesthesiology. His research interests include effects of anesthesia on neurodevelopment and tobacco control in surgical patients. He has published over 300 peer-reviewed manuscripts. Clinically, he practices pediatric anesthesiology. He married his high school sweetheart and is the proud grandfather of 5 cute grandkids.

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