NEW YORK NURSE: June 2008
by Joely Johnson
Nurses can be the perfect spokespeople for helping the public understand the dangers of smoking and for providing education on quitting. Unfortunately, nurses themselves are not immune to addiction. In 2002, 15% of RNs smoked. Reports of the rate of smoking among nursing students range from 6% to as high as 24%.
Smoking rates also vary by nursing specialty, perhaps reflecting the fact that nicotine’s highly addictive effects include reduced stress and anxiety. For example, 23% of psychiatric nurses smoke, compared to only 8% of pediatric nurses and 7% of oncology nurses.
In general, the tobacco industry is known to target groups that respond to marketing that touts cigarettes as sexy, socially rewarding, and a symbol of power. And the chemical cocktail that cigarettes deliver has been engineered to be extremely addictive. Willpower alone is rarely enough to kick the habit.
Some RNs feel that smoking damages the image of professional nursing. A post on a popular online nursing forum reads: “I don’t think smoking can be considered a measuring tool for how good or bad a nurse is, although I always consider the fact that we as nurses are role models. How can we teach a patient about smoking cessation or a healthy lifestyle if we are the ones smoking?” Approximately 25% of nurses provide smoking cessation counseling to their patients. Such nurse-led interventions can increase quitting success rates by 50%.
The profession of nursing can also be a powerful foe against “big tobacco.” According to an internal tobacco company memo from 1990, Philip Morris considered the American Nurses Association a “strong opponent” of the industry’s business. The memo stated, “Nurses, as a group, feel strongly and negatively about tobacco use. As they become more active in politics… at all levels, they could easily become formidable opponents for the tobacco industry.”
A group of nurse activists called the Nightingales (www.nightingalesnurses.org) aims to do exactly that. The group educates the public on the inner workings of the tobacco industry and its efforts to recruit new smokers. According to Nightingales organizer Ruth Malone, “In my own case, it helped me when I started to learn how deceptive the industry had been – I didn’t want to give them any more of my money to help them hook someone else!”
The vast majority of smokers would welcome the ability to quit. There is plenty of help available for those who are ready. Sharing this information with your colleagues and your patients, particularly those with diagnoses of heart or pulmonary disease, is a positive way to encourage their smoke-free futures.
www.tobaccofreenurses.org or 877-203-4144
This national program is focused on helping nurses and student nurses to stop smoking. Their online QuitNet forum brings together smokers and ex-smokers to share advice and support along the way.
www.nysmokefree.com or 866-NY-QUITS
Visit this site to request a free starter kit of nicotine patches, gum, or lozenges for eligible New York State residents and to find information about local smoking cessation programs.