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Nurses' Health Study shows nurses smoke more than doctors

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Nurses are significantly more likely to smoke than doctors, suggest US nurse researchers.

As part of the Nurses’ Health Study – the largest study of women’s health in the world – researchers from the University of California Los Angeles studied the smoking habits of almost 240,000 nurses.

The rate of smoking among the nurses studied dropped dramatically, from 33.2% at the start of the study in 1976, to 8.4% in 2003. Yet this is still much higher than the 1% of US doctors who smoked in 2005, according to comparative data from the Association of Medical Colleges.

30% of nurses smoke

The situation is worse in the UK, says Jennifer Percival, tobacco education project manager at the RCN. ‘Around 30% of nurses smoke in the UK, and only 9% of doctors,’ she said.

The US researchers found that, although nurses participating in the study had access to information about the health risks of smoking, they lacked the ‘professional and institutional support’ to help them quit. The researchers also raised concerns over whether nurses who smoke could offer effective smoking cessation advice to patients.

‘It is absolutely essential that a nurse who is helping a patient quit smoking does not smoke themselves because their help may not appear genuine,’ said Bob Smith, clinical nurse therapist in smoking cessation at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.

‘But it is hard for shift workers to give up smoking because they have no regular routine to help them. Trusts need to look to the long term and start using the resources they have to provide more internal support to help nurses quit,’ he added.

Smoking cessation experts say that stress is one of the main contributing factors to nurses’ smoking. A recent Nursing Times survey on nurses’ well-being found that one in ten of the 1,300 respondents had recently started smoking, or was smoking more due to stress.

The US research also showed that – together with psychiatric nurses – the higher rates of smoking were among nurses who were working in critical care and A&E.

Why do more nurses smoke than doctors? Have your say on the Nursing Times forum.

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