As the front line in health care, nurses know firsthand the dangers of smoking, but that doesn't always mean they don't do it.
In comparison to other bad health habits, the dangers of smoking are hard to ignore. According to the American Lung Association (ALA) smoking increases your risk of lung and other cancers, emphysema, chronic lung disease, and stroke, not to mention the general physical changes that result from inhaling the myriad dangerous chemicals in cigarette smoke.
But many nurses, like other smokers, started smoking when they were young - often long before nursing school. Once hooked, they found it hard to quit. The ALA statistics say that 86% of adults who ever smoked reported starting before the age of 21. And with so many smokers relying on cigarettes as a way to cope with stress, entering the high-stress career of nursing can make quitting that much more daunting.
But with the American Cancer Society's (ACS) annual Great American Smokeout just around the corner on November 21, this is a great time to quit. Luckily you don't have to go it alone, and you shouldn't feel bad if it takes several tries before you finally quit for good.
Currently, smokers who want to quit their nicotine addiction have several resources available. Of course you can go cold turkey if you think that method will work best for you, but there are other things you can try as well. Various combinations of hypnotherapy, smoking cessation classes, the patch, nicotine gum, prescription medication like Zyban or Chantix, or support groups can make your attempt more likely to succeed. Check out the ACS Guide to Quitting for ideas and tips on how to quit for good.
But for nurses, reducing stress is also an important part of successfully quitting. Recognize that this is a big challenge and treat yourself kindly. Don't berate yourself if you cave in and have a cigarette after a particularly stressful day. Just be sure to start right over. Don't let one cigarette turn into 10.
It helps to remember that smoking is both a physical and a mental addiction and requires a big overhaul of lots of familiar routines and habits, many of them comforting to you (even if they are unhealthy!). You will probably feel sad, frustrated, or angry that your old ways of relieving stress are gone and need to be replaced with unfamiliar habits. And all of this happens while you are trying to physically wean off cigarettes! No wonder why so many ex-smokers say it is the hardest thing they have ever done.
But you can do it. Nurses who smoke often struggle with cautioning their patients about smoking. How can they be a good health role model when they smoke? How can they tell their patients to do as they say, not as they do? But trying to quit, and then successfully quitting, also gives you a unique perspective to help your patients who are trying to do the same thing. You know how hard it is because you have been there.
Once you quit, or even if you struggle, your patients will relate to what you are going through and may even pay more attention to your advice. Share with them what worked and don't be afraid to say it took five attempts before you got it right. Your struggle likely mirrors their own and they will appreciate your honesty. And once you have quit, you won't want to let them down!