The irony of the nurse who smokes

Image: Alloy Photography | Veer

It’s crazy, huh. Nurses are at the front line of tobacco treatment and prevention, yet they’re the most likely of all healthcare providers to light up. Why is that? Theories abound, but the stress of nursing is one of the most likely contributors to the addiction.

More than 80% of smokers say they want to quit, and nurses especially feel the pressure to kick the habit once and for all. For how can nurses provide tobacco treatment or smoking cessation counseling to others when they themselves are sneaking out for a cigarette during break?

Some fast facts about nurses and smoking:

  • An estimated 540,000 nurses in the U.S. are smokers.
  • The tobacco industry profits from selling an addictive drug. It may be legal, but their product kills 440,000 people per year. That’s the same as if three 747 jets crashed every day for a year and killed all their passengers.
  • Nurses have the highest smoking rate among healthcare providers, estimated to be about 18 percent.
  • Tobacco is highly addictive, and 90 percent of smokers start before the age of 18.
  • On average, it takes 11 attempts to quit for good.

If you use tobacco, the best thing you can ever do for yourself is to quit. You may not feel ready to quit, but don’t let that stop you. Even if you don’t feel ready, you can break the habit.

It takes more than willpower to quit! For best results, combine medication and counseling sessions. Don’t give up if your first attempt is not successful. Empower yourself by creating a plan before your next attempt, incorporating all the knowledge and support you have available.

Use this checklist as a guide to quit smoking:

  • Set a quit date. Make it public; spread the news at work and at home. Get support from friends and family. If you have a colleague who smokes, give her lots of support in her attempts to quit. Research shows that support from fellow nurses helps smokers to stop smoking.
  • Join a treatment program. Visit the website or call 1-800-QUITNOW to get connected with local programs. By joining, you can track your hours of life and money saved by not smoking.
  • Consult your healthcare provider about starting a medication.
  • On your quit day, throw out all your cigarettes, lighters and ashtrays.
  • Avoid triggers for smoking such as alcohol and caffeine. Drink plenty of water and try exercise and other stress-relieving techniques.
  • Reward yourself for your progress. Give yourself a manicure, get a massage or buy yourself some flowers.
  • Tobacco Free Nurses helps nurses to quit and provides plenty of resources. Visit the website at
  • Empower yourself by helping other nurses quit smoking. Join the Nightingales Nurses RN2Q1 campaign, a nationwide campaign to stop this industrially produced public health crisis. Find out more at

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Julia Buss

Julia Buss, RN, MS is a nurse with over 20 years experience working in healthcare. She is author of "Your Care Plan," a nurse’s guide to healthy living written especially for nurses to help them take care of themselves as well as others. She is a member of Nightingales Nurses, an international group of nurse activists who work to focus public attention on the behavior of the tobacco industry. She writes regularly on health issues for

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2 Responses to The irony of the nurse who smokes

  1. Jan Lee RN

    Fascinated by this!!. I am a nurse turned hypnotist! It is my new career path and I am about to work with nurses who want to stop smoking. I will be sending in a press release about “smoking nurses” to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. I have been a psychiatric nurse for 27 years and have worked in some stressful environments. I praise all of you in this crazy profession that often tempts you to leave it..were it not for the reward of knowing you do help humanity !! My experience has made it very clear that management often fails to hear the complaints of nurses or selectively “hears.” Hypnosis is a dynamic process that opens up the subconscious mind so that positive suggestions will take hold and change will occur. I am a nurse in full support of nurses. The fee for hypnosis is small compared to the cost of cigarettes and the unavoidable health issues. Hypnosis will also help with weight loss, phobias, anxiety, PTSD, low self esteem, sleep problems…etc. It is about learning to relax and focus and use your own incredible mind!!
    If we don’t give ourselves a recipe for coping with the stress of our profession , we will lose more nurses. Let’s face it …our recruitment and retention staff need to rewire their thinking about how to retain!!

    Good Luck All
    Jan Lee

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