Tobacco (39) Q2. Do health workers have adequate knowledge to prevent and treat tobacco addiction? (2)

5 March, 2023

Dear all,

Thank you for your valuable contributions, which will help to inform tobacco control efforts worldwide, especially on how to meet the information and learning needs of the public, health workers and policymakers.

In the past week we have looked mainly at the information needs of the general public. As we enter our second week I invite you to consider the needs of health workers.


To what extent do health workers understand the health risks of tobacco? A thorough understanding of these risks is surely a prerequisite for a health worker to guide patients?

To what extent do health workers understand tobacco's environmental, social and economic harms? Here again, health workers can use such knowledge to make the case against tobacco with their patients.

We have heard about research on health workers' knowledge from Indonesia, with thanks to Jum'atil Fajar. One study suggests that one in 7 doctors is unaware of the significant health risks of low-tar cigarettes (although it is difficult to interpret the true picture from the abstract alone). What is the picture in other countries? Please do share any research you may be aware of, or reports. Email:

Reliable information on the health risks of tobacco is just one aspect of what health workers need to prevent and treat tobacco addiction among their patients. Just as important is knowledge of *how* they can help people to initiate and recover from tobacco addiction. It's well recognised that ”brief advice” and "very brief advice" by health workers are effective and take very little time in the consultation, but how many health workers understand this?

Knowledge about why and how to reduce smoking is a prerequisite but is not sufficient. Which brings us to the question 'What matters to health workers?'. What are the perceived obstacles that prevent them from applying their knowledge? For many health workers, the short length of consultations may seem to preclude advice, although such advice can be given in a very short time as mentioned above. It would be valuable to hear from those of you who are frontline health workers about why, when and how you give (or don't give) advice on tobacco to patients.

How can health workers be better informed? One aspect of this question is: Who should provide the training? How can health workers *in training* be better informed? Another is: What is the minimum that health workers need to know and how can this be ensured? Are there any changes needed to prompt health workers to give appropriate advice to patients?

We look forward to your contributions, from whichever country you work in worldwide. We are keen to hear about the needs of all cadres of health workers: doctors, nurses, allied health workers, community health workers...

Best wishes, Neil

On behalf of the HIFA Mental health - Substance use disorders - Tobacco working group

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of HIFA (Healthcare Information For All), a global health community that brings all stakeholders together around the shared goal of universal access to reliable healthcare information. HIFA has 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting in four languages and representing all parts of the global evidence ecosystem. HIFA is administered by Global Healthcare Information Network, a UK-based nonprofit in official relations with the World Health Organization. Email: