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Tobacco cessation for nurses and patients


Approximately 12% of registered nurses smoke cigarettes. While that is less than the general population average at 19%, it’s still 12% too many! How do RNs compare to other health care professionals lighting up? Licensed practical nurses register at 21% on the tobacco scale, while physicians (2%) and dentists (3%) have gotten their tobacco use rates down into the lower single digits. Why is tobacco use still somewhat prevalent in the nursing profession? Nurses may equate a cigarette with stress relief, a quick pick-me-up, a well-earned break from work, or a rewarding treat. It’s definitely a hard habit to “extinguish.” Often the tobacco habit becomes interlaced with another: cigarette with morning coffee, afternoon socialization time, or smoking while enjoying an “adult beverage.”

Nurses know the dire consequences of tobacco use—increased risk of cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, and chronic obstructive lung disease, to name just a few. Although identified as a critical public health issue, tobacco use still exists and thrives. In the United States, tobacco use is the number one preventable cause of death. According to Regina Benjamin, former Surgeon General, when one tobacco-related death occurs, two more smokers under the age of 25 take the deceased’s place.

To combat Public Health Enemy #1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer the following Quit Tips:

  • Write down all health, personal, and financial reasons for quitting.
  • Acknowledge the commitment and effort required to quit.
  • Get help if needed.
  • Take heart in the knowledge that more than 50% of all adult smokers have already quit!
  • Stop smoking all cigarettes.

Potential quitters may benefit from setting up a fixed quit date in the near future. Successful quitters often surround themselves with support: friends, family, co-workers, and tobacco cessation assistance groups. Avoid tobacco enticement opportunities, and beware of temptation in the form of certain activities, people, places, and times of day. If relapse occurs, try again. No matter how many times it takes, the reward of better health is worth it.

If needed, consider assistive options such as FDA-approved cessation medication, nicotine gum or patches, support groups, hypnosis, or quit lines, such as the CDC’s 1-800-QUIT-NOW. As with most medications, consult with a healthcare professional regarding use. Remember, the benefits of tobacco cessation are immediate. Even just 24 hours after tobacco cessation, the chance of a heart attack is reduced.

Patient intervention

Whether a nurse uses tobacco or not, he or she will provide care for patients who do. The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recommends the following steps for healthcare professionals to use, known as the 5 A’s, for successful tobacco cessation intervention:

  • Ask about tobacco use at every visit.
  • Advise tobacco users to quit tobacco use in clear, strong language.
  • Assess the tobacco user’s current willingness to quit.
  • Assist the patient’s tobacco cessation with appropriate interventions.
  • Arrange follow up support, using additional visits or phone calls within the first week after cessation attempt.

Quitting tobacco use is an excellent decision for everyone! Please see the box for resources when quitting or assisting another to quit.


CDC Tobacco Cessation website
Legacy’s EX program

National Cancer Institute’s Tobacco Free website

Tobacco Free Nurses

Holly Carpenter is a senior staff specialist in ANA’s Department for Health, Safety, and Wellness.

3 Comments. Leave new

  • It’s a relationship. Nicotine is always there for you, it doesn’t judge, it makes time for you one on one. It can give you a lift, justify some “me time” and it’s smoke swirls and eludes a mysterious sort of smoke screen to block out what you might not want to see… Unfortunately, it’s all a lie. Smoking does not advocate for any of your interests. It’s a subtle, chemically charged product designed specifically to get you to use and buy more to sustain profit. Pimp that?

  • I quit smoking in 1990 and it was the best decision I ever made for my health. At that time the only available product was Nicorette gum. (And I also prayed a lot!) Now we have more forms of nicotine and two prescription drugs. Convenient care clinics such as MinuteClinic offer smoking cessation – usually covered by insurance; reasonable rate if not. I encourage all nurses to quit smoking to “walk the talk” for good health.

  • It’s good to remember that patients (and others) can usually smell smoke on the clothing and breath of a smoker. Patients who must abstain from cigarettes while hospitalized may be especially sensitive to this. It must be discouraging for them to realize that their health care provider smokes.


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