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Healthcare professionals are kicking the smoking habit in record numbers

According to a new study by researchers at the UCLA School of Nursing, the smoking rate has dropped dramatically in recent years among healthcare professionals, particularly among registered nurses
According to a new study by researchers at the UCLA School of Nursing, the smoking rate has dropped dramatically in recent years among healthcare professionals, particularly among registered nurses
Robin Wulffson, M.D.

In the early 1950s, RJ Reynolds, the manufacturer of Camel Cigarettes, launched an advertising campaign that touted, “More doctors smoke Camels than any other brand.” The concept was that if doctor’s smoked cigarettes, they were not detrimental to one’s health. At that time, many doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals smoked. According to a new study by researchers at the UCLA School of Nursing, the smoking rate has dropped dramatically in recent years among healthcare professionals, particularly among registered nurses. The findings were published on January 8 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The report commemorates the 50th anniversary of the surgeon general’s landmark 1964 Report on Smoking and Health.

The researchers note that healthcare professionals who smoke cannot effectively communicate the harmful effects from smoking. They explain that a stagnation in smoking among healthcare professionals occurred from 2003 to 2007. During that period, no significant declined among these individuals; the highest prevalence was among licensed practical nurses (20.55%) and the lowest prevalence was among physicians (2.31%). When smoking data from 2010 to 2011 was released. They evaluated it in regard to smoking status. Principal investigator, Linda Sarna, RN, PhD is a professor at the UCLA School of Nursing and oncology nurse who has been committed to tobacco cessation for the past two decades; she noted that she was energized by the results: “his decline is so important, not just for the health status of nurses but because studies continue to show that smoking by healthcare professionals sends a mixed message to patients.”

The study authors accessed data on healthcare professionals from the Tobacco Use Supplement for 2003, 2006–07 and 2010–11. This supplement is compiled as a portion of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. The investigators found no significant decrease in smoking among registered nurses between 2003 and 2007; however, from 2007 through 2011, the rate plummeted. The data revealed that the proportion of registered nurses who smoke decreased from 11% to 7%, marking an overall decrease of 36% and more than 200% the 13% decline among the general US population during the same time period. Furthermore, the percentage of nurses who smoked and have quit (70.3%) was higher than the general population (53.6%).

Dr. Sarna explained, “Nurses see every day the devastation smoking has on their patients. Much has changed since the 1970s, when female nurses had higher smoker prevalence than women in the general population.” The study found that the smoking rate is continuing to decline among all healthcare professionals included in the analyses: physicians, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, and dental hygienists. Physicians are the group with the lowest percentage of current smokers: only about 2% of physicians currently smoke. Another positive finding of the study was that the majority of healthcare professionals (77.9%) never started smoking to begin with; this percentage is significantly lower than the general population’s 65.3%.

One group that still has a high rate of smoking is licensed practical nurses (LPNs). Dr. Sarna notes that almost 25% of them presently smoke. She stressed, “We really have to focus on the LPN, whose smoking rates continue to remain the highest among all healthcare professionals.” Stella Aguinaga Bialous, RN, DrPH, Dpresident of Tobacco Policy International, is of the opinion that the significant decline in smoking is due in major part to the trend of hospitals banning smoking on their property, as well as a focused campaign targeting nurses to quit. Drs. Bialous and Sarna founded the organization Tobacco Free Nurses in 2003 to provide support for nurses who smoke, as well as to establish a framework for engaging nurses in tobacco-use prevention and cessation. Dr. Bialous explained, “Nurses are the largest group of healthcare professionals. We knew that if we provided nurses with the education and resources to stop smoking, they in turn could help their patients quit. We are very encouraged that one decade after we launched our initiative, the culture of smoking among nurses has taken such a dramatic turn.”

Take home message:

Some decades after the “More Doctors Smoke Camels” campaign, RJ Reynolds stooped to a new low in 1988 with its launch of “Joe Camel” campaign to encourage teens to take up the smoking habit. The campaign was discontinued in July 1997, under pressure from public interest groups, including the American Medical Association. Since then, the company has acknowledged its awareness that smoking is detrimental to one’s health. On its website, RJ Reynolds states, “Cigarette smoking is a leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States. Cigarette smoking significantly increases the risk of developing lung cancer, heart disease, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and other serious diseases and adverse health conditions.” The site also states, “Tobacco products should be regulated in a manner that is designed to achieve significant and measurable reductions in the risks and adverse health effects associated with tobacco use. Regulations should enhance the information available to adult tobacco consumers to permit them to make informed choices, and encourage the development of tobacco and nicotine products with lower risks than existing cigarettes.”

In my opinion, RJ Reynolds current stance is a step in the right direction; however, producing safer cigarettes merely reduces the adverse effects of smoking and in no way eliminates them. Heavy smokers will still die prematurely after switching to “safer” cigarettes.

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