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Smokers Will Stop for Their Pet's Sake

Study finds nearly 1 in 3 will do so for Fido, if not for themselves

MONDAY, Feb. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Many smokers who won't kick the habit for their own health will do it for their pets, a new study finds.

"We wanted to determine whether pet owners who learned that smoking is bad for their pet's health would change their behavior," said Sharon Milberger, an epidemiologist at the Henry Ford Health System Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, and lead author of a report in the February online issue of Tobacco Control.

The answer was "yes" for nearly one in three of the pet-owning smokers surveyed by Milberger and her colleagues.

Almost 3,300 residents of southeastern Michigan responded to the online survey. One in five was a smoker, and more than one in four lived with a smoker.

Of the smokers, one in three said that knowing that smoking was bad for the health of a pet would prompt them to give it up. Almost one in 10 said they would ask a partner to quit, while one in seven said they would ask their partners to smoke only outdoors.

About four of 10 smokers and one in four of the nonsmokers living with someone who smoked said they be interested in information on the effects of smoking and how to stop.

"The results are encouraging," Milberger said. "In two of every three homes in the United States, people have pets. That's 70 million pets, and one in five lives with smokers."

"It doesn't surprise me," said Carolynn MacAllister, a veterinarian at the Oklahoma State Cooperative Extension Service. "People think of their pets as family members."

The American Veterinary Medical Association reported some years ago that 85 percent of people who own pets consider them to be family members, MacAllister said. "They don't care as much about themselves as they do for family members, and they consider pets to be family members," she said.

MacAllister cited studies showing an association between secondhand smoke and an increased risk of certain kinds of cancer in pets. One study found an increase of squamous cell carcinoma, a cancer of the mouth in cats, presumably related to the cancer-causing smoke-related molecules they lick up while grooming themselves. Another study found an increased incidence of nasal tumors among dogs living with smokers.

Milberger said her group has started an effort to see whether the pet effect can influence people to give up smoking.

"We are testing such an intervention," she said. "We want to see if adding information on the effects of secondhand smoke on pets can change human behavior."

Results of that intervention "should be available in six months to a year." Milberger said.

More information

Complete information on why smoking is bad for you and your pet is available from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

SOURCES: Sharon Milberger, Ph.D., epidemiologist, Henry Ford Health System Center, Detroit; Carolynn MacAllister, DVM, Oklahoma State Cooperative Extension Service, Stillwater, Okla.; February 2009, Tobacco Control, online

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