How many medical doctors smoke?

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In many countries medical doctors have been at the forefront of attempts to reduce the number of people who smoke. The medical doctor is one of the most highly respected professionals and patients place a large amount of faith in their doctor’s advice. However, concerns have been expressed about the willingness of doctors who smoke themselves to advise their patients to quit, and about the likelihood of patients taking such advice seriously if they are aware that the doctor is a smoker him/herself. So what proportion of medical doctors smoke?

In the past month Drs Derek Smith and Peter Leggat published a comprehensive international review of tobacco smoking in the medical profession from 1974-2004. The study showed that in countries like the United States, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, smoking rates have dropped dramatically among doctors, from 15-20% in the 1970’s to around 5% at the end of the 20th century. However, such low smoking rates are not uniform among doctors across the world. In China, 32% of male doctors smoke (but 0% of females doctors smoke), in Italy 28% of doctors smoke (32% among men), and in Turkey or Bosnia & Herzegovina around 40% of doctors smoke.

Some may be surprised to hear that as many as 5% of US doctors smoke. But remember that doctors are human beings like the rest of us, and not immune to either infections or addictions. Many smoking doctors report that they (like most smokers) started in their teen years and so were likely addicted even prior to the decision to study medicine at college. I prefer to look at the low (and still falling) smoking rates among doctors in some countries as a very positive sign. It provides an indication of how low it is possible for smoking prevalence to go in a population that is well informed of the health risks, has relatively good access to treatment, and generally works in a smoke-free environment where smoking is not considered to be socially acceptable. It suggests that 5% may be a reasonable target for the rest of the population as well.

The full report on smoking among doctors can be found at:
http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/7/115
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About the Author


MA, MAppSci, PhD

Dr. Jonathan Foulds is an expert in the field of tobacco addiction.

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