Nurses and Smoking: Have We Kicked the Habit Yet?


In the 1950’s advertising for Camel cigarettes marketed their tobacco products to the public using the claim that “more doctors smoked Camel” than any other brand. In the 60’s, an estimated 56% of the general population smoked. Eventually by the mid-1970’s society began urging medical professionals to refrain from tobacco-use in order to set a healthy example. After all, shouldn’t medically trained professionals know the consequences and health effects associated with tobacco better than anyone else?

Today, the majority of individuals in the healthcare profession abstain from smoking. In fact, 78% of all healthcare providers say they never even started the habit at all according to the Journal of American Medical Association.   But, the number of former cigarette smoking registered nurses is about 70%…which is higher than the general population which is only about 50%.

A study published by UCLA in early 2014 suggested that the numbers of registered nurse cigarette-smokers has dropped significantly (in the years between 2003-2011) from 11% to 7%.

Percentage of nurses who presently smoke through the years:

  • 1976: 33.2%
  • 1989: 13.5%
  • 2002/2003: 8.4%

It seems that very few healthcare professionals “light up” with the exception of one category… LPNs. Despite only about roughly 2% of physicians claiming to presently smoke (in the years 2003-2007), licensed practicing nurses surprisingly still have a high number. LPNs are the highest group of trained medical staff that smoke, at nearly 25%! The numbers are baffling. How could one-fourth of LPNs trained in the field of medicine be classified as smokers…especially when you compare that to the national average for the American population overall to only be estimated at 18% (according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention)? Additionally, the numbers seem exceptionally high considering when the large number of present-day U.S. health systems are participating in “tobacco-free hiring.” Urine screenings, hiring refusal, and in some cases termination upon discovery of tobacco-use are used by some hospitals and medical businesses are all part of an effort to keep costs down and protect the health of employees and public. According to the organization, Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, more than 3,634 hospitals, clinics and facilities already have smoking bans on their entire campus. These laws were enacted in order to protect the patients, staff, and visitors from the exposure to second-hand smoke. And, many more are currently in the process of initiating these protocols as well. Last year, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said that all hospitals and clinics should become smoke-free. However, treating cigarette use as a crime surprisingly had little effect on the number of users in the medical profession.

Registered nurses tackle a plethora of vulnerability to bad habits due to large levels of work-related stress. Among them is over-eating, drinking, and of course smoking. A great burden is placed on RN’s to serve as positive models of health in their community. However, perhaps the pressure from all of those outside forces are why it is so difficult for all healthcare workers to kick their bad habits. Despite positive decreases in numbers of smokers among healthcare employees, there still is room for improvement. Perhaps completely making tobacco-use banned for nurses is not entirely helpful to guide them into healthier lifestyles, but it unarguably is still a positive progress in efforts to prevent second-hand smoke related issues.

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Author: Travel Nurse Source

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