Characteristics and prevalence of hardcore smokers attending UK general practitioners

BMC Fam Pract. 2006 Mar 29;7:24. doi: 10.1186/1471-2296-7-24.


Background: Smoking remains a public health problem and although unsolicited GPs' advice against smoking causes between one and three percent of smokers to stop, a significant proportion of smokers are particularly resistant to the notion of stopping smoking. These resistant smokers have been called "hardcore smokers" and although 16% of smokers in the community are hardcore, little is known about hardcore smokers presenting to primary care physicians. Consequently, this study reports the characteristics and prevalence of hardcore smokers attending UK GPs.

Methods: A cross-sectional survey using data from two different research projects was conducted. Data for this analysis had been collected from surgery consultation sessions with 73 GPs in Leicestershire, England, (42 GPs from one project). Research assistants distributed pre-consultation questionnaires to 4147 adults attending GPs' surgery sessions. Questionnaires identified regular smokers, the proportion of hardcore smokers and their characteristics. Non-hardcore and hardcore smokers' ages, gender and nicotine addiction levels were compared.

Results: 1170 regular smokers attended surgery sessions and, 16.1% (95% CI, 14.1 to 18.4) were hardcore smokers. Hardcore smokers had higher levels of nicotine addiction than others (p = 0.000), measured by the Heaviness of Smoking Index and were more likely to be male [50.5% hardcore versus 35.3% non-hardcore, (OR = 1.88, 95% CI = 1.4 to 2.6)] but no age differences were observed between groups.

Conclusion: A significant minority of the smokers who present in general practice are resistant to the notion of smoking cessation and these smokers are more heavily nicotine addicted than others. Although clinical guidelines suggest that GPs should regularly advise all smokers against smoking, it is probable that hardcore smokers do not respond positively to this and help to make up the 97%-99% of smokers who do not quit after being advised to stop smoking by GPs. General practitioners need to find approaches for raising the issue of smoking during consultations in ways that do not reinforce the negative opinions of hardcore smokers concerning smoking cessation.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Counseling
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • England / epidemiology
  • Family Practice / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic / standards*
  • Prevalence
  • Smoking / epidemiology*
  • Smoking Cessation / statistics & numerical data
  • State Medicine
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / classification
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / epidemiology*