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Why do doctors and medical students smoke when they must know how harmful it is?

Maria Sofia Cattaruzza, R. West
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/eurpub/ckt001 First published online: 19 January 2013

Medical professionals, of all people, should know how harmful smoking is. In Britain, almost no doctors smoke. Yet in many countries, such as Italy, smoking is commonplace among medical students and doctors. The question arises as to why this is so, and what can be done about it. It is important to analyse this issue not only for the health of medical professionals but also because if they smoke themselves, they are in no position to advise or help their patients to stop.

Tobacco products would not be sold legally if they were invented today—there is no other product on the market with such high levels of known toxins and carcinogens!

The World Health Organization estimates that each year, more than 5 million deaths worldwide are attributable to smoking.

According to the 2012 Eurobarometer Report ‘Attitudes of Europeans towards Tobacco’, the prevalence of smoking in the European population aged ≥15 years is 28%, with a maximum observed in Greece (40%) and a minimum in Sweden (13%). Italy (as the Netherlands) is classified fourth from the last with a prevalence of 24%. The 2012 Italian DOXA survey, requested each year by the Istituto Superiore di Sanità, reported a lower estimate of 21%.

Nevertheless, according to a study published in 2010, the prevalence of smoking among health professionals in Italy is 44%, more than double that of the general population, and this is not only due to the high prevalence in nurses (48.2%), but it is also observed in medical doctors (33.9%), medical students (35%) and postgraduate students (52.9%).1

This …