The Risk Of Nurses And Caregivers Who Smoke

Reporter: Shannon Samson

New Media Producer: Kerry Corum

Americans who smoke are being urged to kick the habit for the New Year. But ironically, there are many in the medical community who continue to light-up.

Census Bureau information shows that one-out-of-five nurses in the country are smokers.

Taking a cigarette break is how Connie Stephens deals with stress. Ironically, Connie is a nurse at a cancer hospital, and despite all she knows about the dangers of smoking, she still lights-up. Connie says, "I think it's a crutch. It's for nerves because I don't even like the taste of cigarettes. I think they're nasty."

In spite of that, Connie is one of the 300,000 nurses who continue to smoke in this country. And experts are afraid that if the nurses are smoking, they're more likely to look the other way when they know their patients do.

Pulmonologist Mary Ellen Wewers says, "If a person or a provider smokes, then we know that they will not intervene as readily, with their patients who smoke."

Dr. Wewers of Ohio State's James Cancer Hospital says part of the problem is very little time is spent in nursing schools, talking about treatments for tobacco use.

Dr. Wewers surveyed almost a thousand nursing programs in the U.S. and found a common problem in about half of them. Of the hundreds of hours students spend each year in the classroom, only about one hour every year, is being spent teaching nurses about tobacco treatments.

She says, "There are effective medicines that only about 2% of our population of smokers receive."

Wewers believes that if we do a better job teaching nurses about the treatments for tobacco use, they may be more likely to quit, and convince their patients to do the same. And that could go a long way in snuffing out many of the medical problems related to this habit.

Each year, cigarette smoking is linked to one-out-of-five deaths in the U.S.