University of South Carolina

Where there's smoke?

Family and preventive medicine physician is lighting  a fire for smoking cessation efforts

By Matt Splett, South Carolina Medicine,

In 1996, Scott Strayer, M.D., MPH, interim chair of the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at the School of Medicine, made a decision that forever changed his life. He quit smoking.

Strayer calls his decision to quit a defining moment in his life. A father-to-be, he wanted to start a new chapter — free from smoking cigarettes after 15 years. The decision to quit steered Strayer toward a medical career dedicated to research and clinical practice helping smokers kick the habit. 

“I’ve devoted my life to helping other people achieve the success, rewards and health benefits that I have achieved by quitting smoking,” Strayer said. He accomplishes this in a non-confrontational and non-judgmental style and trains other physicians in these techniques. He has been able to do this by securing grant funding from the National Institutes of Health and other sources to improve smoking cessation approaches in primary care. 

Strayer joined the School of Medicine in September 2011. He is a board-certified family medicine physician who spent the previous 10 years at the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville, Va. While in Virginia, he combined his interest in smoking cessation with his knowledge of health information technology to develop the first point-of-care smoking cessation counseling handheld software.  

He served as a medical faculty advisor for a nine-member consortium assembled to disseminate 2008 smoking cessation guidelines for the Continuing Education Aimed at Smoking Elimination project. The three-year, $12.5 million project studied and implemented various best practices aimed at successfully implementing the new guidelines. The efforts reached approximately 100,000 physicians and health care providers across the country — a message he now brings to South Carolina.

“I’m here to improve the health of South Carolinians,” Strayer said. “Smoking is the No. 1 preventable cause of death. There are steps we can take in South Carolina to reduce our statewide smoking rates.” 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five adult South Carolinians smoke — comparable to the national average of 19.3 percent. 

“One could make a conclusion that we are doing great, but what is interesting is that we could be a lot better,” Strayer said. “If we had strong workplace and smoke-free legislation statewide, we could improve our rates. Right now there are only a handful of counties in South Carolina that have smoke-free legislation in place.”

In addition to legislation, Strayer points to appropriate taxation on products and greater funding for effective prevention and cessation efforts available to everyone in South Carolina.

Strayer is passionate about providing patients the resources to quit smoking. He cites a combination of medication and behavioral support as a best practice in quitting. The medications can be prescription based or over-the-counter. He says patients must find what works best for them, whether it is a nicotine patch or taking a pill. Often a combination of medications proves effective.

Physicians can play a role in providing behavioral support, as can spouses, family members and friends. Behavioral support is inclusive and the smoker may rely on many people to fill the support role. In addition, a wealth of resources from toll-free quit lines to text-messaging programs can assist in smoking cessation efforts.

Strayer realized many health benefits when he quit smoking 16 years ago and stands ready to help South Carolinians reap the same rewards from living a smoke-free life.  

This story originally appeared in the winter 2013 issue of South Carolina Medicine magazine, a publication of the USC School of Medicine.  To read more stories from this issue, check out the magazine online.

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Posted: 02/25/13 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 02/27/13 @ 9:26 AM | Permalink