Nurses and the Great American Smokeout

November 17th, 2011

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By , BSN, RN

Today marks the 36th annual Great American Smokeout promoted by the American Cancer Society. Smokers across the country are encouraged to make a plan to quit, or at least go the next 24 hours without a cigarette. One day can be the start to a healthier, smoke free lifestyle and nurses can and should play a huge role in supporting this movement.

Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the US, yet more than 46 million Americans still smoke. However, more than half of these smokers have attempted to quit for at least one day in the past year.

Nurses are the largest group of health care professionals and we can have a huge impact on helping others break the bonds of tobacco addiction. But, first we must quit smoking ourselves. As recently as 2009 12% of nurses still smoked; the largest percentage of any of the health care professions.

A study out of the University of California Los Angeles a few years back brought to light how nurses struggle with nicotine addiction like the rest of the millions of smokers in America.

“Nurses have a tremendous opportunity to assist in tobacco-control efforts,” said principal investigator Linda Sarna, D.N.Sc, a professor at the UCLA School of Nursing. “However, smoking among nurses limits their ability to be strong tobacco-control advocates, including the act of engaging in smoking-cessation efforts with their patients.”

During the course of the study researchers explored the changes in smoking trends and death rates between 1976 and 2003. Following the release of the study Sarna and a group of nursing professionals teamed with the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation to found the Tobacco Free Nurses Initiative, the first national program focused on helping nurses stop smoking.

While the number of smokers among nurses has certainly decreased, from greater than 33% in 1976 to 12% in 2009 still too many of us light up. Today is as good as any to stub out the habit for good.

There are many avenues available to smokers who are ready to quit. Many hospitals offer smoking cessation programs for their employees free of charge. There are community and church based plans, even medications your physician can prescribe to help ease the transition.

I don't throw theses suggestions out lightly. I too smoked for many years and will tell anyone who asks, quitting is the hardest thing I have ever done. But, I sure feel better about encouraging my patients, offering them cessation programs, even preaching a little about the dangers of smoking and the positive impacts of quitting since I've been there.

Quitting is hard. You can increase your chances of success with help. So jump in with both feet, even if it is only for today. The American Cancer Society can tell you about the steps you can take to quit smoking and provide the resources and support that can increase your chances of quitting successfully. To learn about the available tools, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345.

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