FARGO — Chiropractors may be an unexpected source for helping patients crack their smoking habits, according to a pilot study by North Dakota State University researchers.

NDSU announced the results of the study Wednesday, May 29, that had chiropractors from six practices ask if new patients smoke, advise them to quit and refer them to resources to quit the habit. Conducted between March 2016 and July 2017, the study found a patient quit rate of 13.3 percent in 30 days and 16.7 percent in three months.

“In a nutshell, we think it was very successful,” said Kelly Buettner-Schmidt, an NDSU associate nursing professor who conducted the research for the study. “The main purpose of the study really was to determine if chiropractors could be effective deliverers of 'Ask, Advise, Refer.'”

Chiropractic offices — two each in Grand Forks and Fargo, as well as one each in Wahpeton and Valley City — changed their health system to identify smokers among their patients, Buettner-Schmidt said. Some, like Joel Weiss in Fargo, already asked clients about the habit because it can impact muscle recovery.

But the inquiry wasn’t a part of the initial interview and wasn’t to the extent the study required, he said. He was concerned patients would feel he was not listening to their needs.

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“Actually, people were a lot more receptive to that than I thought they would be,” he said, adding the outcomes of the study were worth the challenge of changing.

Chiropractors typically haven’t been a source for advising patients to quit smoking and connecting clients to resources, Buettner-Schmidt said. Bringing up smoking can offend patients if not brought up in the right way, she added.

The doctors participating in the research were trained to interact with patients when talking about smoking habits as part of the study. That way, chiropractors could approach patients about smoking without losing clients, Buettner-Schmidt said.

“They are coming into the chiropractor setting not necessarily because of smoking,” she said.

Weiss said he has continued to use some of the information he learned while participating in the study to help patients.

NDSU had planned to expand the study statewide if it was successful, but the North Dakota Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control Policy, also known as BreatheND, was defunded in 2017 by the state Legislature. The program funded the study before it was absorbed by the North Dakota Department of Health.

That left less money for studies, and the agency needs to be more strategic in spending funds for reducing smoking, said Neil Charvat, tobacco prevention and control program director for the Health Department.

It’s likely the chiropractic research won’t be expanded, Buettner-Schmidt said. However, the study has been shared at national conventions in hopes chiropractors would hear about it. NDSU also is applying for grants to do a similar study with pharmacies, she said.

Charvat said state-sponsored research that proves a method can help people quit “helps justify what we do with that.”

“It shows that we’re helping not just North Dakota but nationwide in these efforts,” he said.