CT scans scare smokers into quitting for good: Canadian study

You’ve set a quit day, gone cold turkey, tried the patch, and joined a support group. But have you taken a good look at a CT scan of your lungs?. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Dave Martin

TORONTO – You’ve set a quit day, gone cold turkey, tried the patch, and joined a support group. But have you taken a good look at a CT scan of your lungs?

Canadian researchers say they may have unlocked the key to convincing smokers to quit for good. It all depends on how grim the images of their lungs are.

“Abnormal screening results may present a ‘teachable moment.’ Future lung cancer screening programs should take advantage of this opportunity to apply effective smoking cessation programs,” according to lead researcher Dr. Martin Tammemagi.

“This is one of the biggest breakthroughs that we’ve had for decades in terms of reducing lung cancer mortality,” Tammemagi said in a university statement.

READ MORE: Smokers who quit before 40 save a decade of their lives

He’s an epidemiologist at Brock University. In his study, he used data from the U.S. National Lung Screening Trial that looked at more than 14,600 current smokers between 55 and 70 years old. They had a 30-packs-or-more per year smoking history. If they developed lung cancer during follow-ups, they were excluded from the study.

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But during one-, two- and seven-year follow-ups, the researchers learned that the more serious the screening results, the more likely smokers would butt out. And the effect of the gruesome CT scans was long-lasting – most quit for at least five years after the last screening.

If the screening results are bad enough, about 12 per cent of people quit smoking, Tammemagi said. Death by lung cancer could be cut by 20 per cent.

READ MORE: How health officials helped 120,000 people quit smoking

It appears inducing fear works: in the U.S., officials recruited long-time smokers to speak candidly about their health woes as cautionary tales to others.

It was a controversial project. About 20 former smokers shared their real life stories about how smoking changed their health.

They spoke candidly; their video autobiographies were graphic tales that documented their downward spiral into poor health.

READ MORE: Could plain packaging for cigarettes help Canadians quit smoking?

In telling her story, Terrie Hall, who became one of the most memorable faces from the campaign, puts on a wig, inserts her fake teeth and covers a hole in her throat with a scarf. Her voice is deep and gravelly.

Warning: The video content may be disturbing to some viewers.

READ MORE: Woman featured in graphic anti-smoking ads dies of cancer, hailed as hero

Ultimately, Hall died of cancer but was applauded for her bravery in sharing her story. One of her ads received more than 2.8 million views on YouTube.

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Following that campaign, the CDC said that it helped 100,000 Americans quit for good.

READ MORE: Have cigarette taxes become ‘extreme’? Canadian tobacco exec says so

Earlier this week, a Hong Kong teacher made his own video that he posted to YouTube showing how smoking changes your lungs.

The video is based on a project using pigs’ lungs – one is exposed to clean air while the other ‘smoked’ 60 cigarettes.

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