Fido and Fluffy Want You to Butt Out

People who smoke may be more motivated to quit if they knew the harm it was doing to their pets, researchers from the Henry Ford Health System claim.

They surveyed more than 3,000 pet owners and found 28 percent of smokers said they would be interested in quitting if they knew the habit could damage their pets' health.

In the paper, which was published in Tobacco Control, the authors write: "Given that 63 percent of U.S. households (71.1 million homes) have a pet in the home, and that about a fifth of pet owners are current cigarette smokers (according to our study), our findings are relevant to millions of households in the U.S. If an effective educational campaign on the dangers of pet exposure to [secondhand smoke] were designed and then implemented throughout the country, it could have a meaningful impact on attitudes and behaviors regarding smoking and exposure to [secondhand smoke]."

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The dangers of secondhand smoke to humans are well-documented. People who live with smokers face an increased risk for asthma, heart disease, cancer and strokes. But what about our furry friends? Is it true they could be in danger too?

According to veterinarian Marty Becker, the answer is yes.

"The problem with pets and secondhand smoke is a major one," because pets can get the same maladies that their human counterparts suffer, Becker said.

"Cats are particularly prone to asthma from secondhand smoke, and all pets living in smoking households are more prone to lung and other cancer," Becker said. "The reason is because not only do these pets tend to lie loyally by their masters while they're smoking, thus inhaling a lot of smoke, the toxic substances in the smoke when exhaled settle on the pet's fur, furniture and floor."

The animals' fur adds to the problem, Becker said.

"The pet's coats act like living [dust mops] to attract the chemicals, which are then ingested when the pet licks or grooms itself," Becker said. "It's like the pet smokes and uses smokeless chewing tobacco at the same time."

If You Won't Quit Smoking for Your Pet, How About for Money?

Becker has had several clients who gave up smoking when they learned what it was doing to their pets, so perhaps the folks at Henry Ford Health System have found the basis for an ingenious public health campaign: Kick Butts for Your Pet.

And if love of animals isn't sufficient motivation, perhaps money would help? A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that paying smokers to attend cessation classes and to remain smoke-free for long periods of time had some success.

Participants were paid up to $750 for kicking the habit, and after one year, quit rates were three times higher among those who received monetary incentives compared to those who received education only.

Unfortunately, quitting for good remains a difficult task, despite good intentions or strong motivation. Even the smokers paid hundreds of dollars to quit were unlikely to remain smoke-free for long: After 18 months, 91 percent were smoking once more.

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