Tobacco (32) Q1. Do people understand the harms of using tobacco products? (13) The role of health professsionals (2)

2 March, 2023

Dear Neil & colleagues,

A 2021 paper concluded that "Prevalence of smoking among physicians is high, around 21%. Family practitioners and medical students have the highest percentage of smokers. All physicians should benefit from targeted preventive strategies."

(Besson et al. Smoking Prevalence among Physicians: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.

This is interesting as one would imagine that doctors (and other healthcare providers) would be well aware of the harmful effects of smoking.

As authors of a much older, 2013 paper say, "This is a key problem from a public health perspective, not only because the physician is an important model for patients, colleagues and medical students, but also because physicians’ personal use of tobacco impairs interactions with patients about smoking. Statistically significant associations have been observed between physician’s smoking status and beliefs and clinical practice in an international survey of general and family practitioners. Pipe and colleagues reported that smoking doctors were significantly less likely to view smoking as harmful than their non-smoking colleagues and less likely to discuss smoking at each patient visit."

(Cattaruzza & West. Why do doctors and medical students smoke when they must know how harmful it is?

In the latter paper the authors ask: "Why do physicians smoke? Is it because they do not know or do not believe that smoking is harmful? Is it because they do not study this topic in their training as a regular course and thus they do not consider it important? Or, perhaps they consider it important, but not a priority."

I'm also curious. On a purely anecdotal basis, I'm sure many of us have seen healthcare workers (doctors, nurses, physios, paramedics), often in uniform, congregate to smoke behind hospital buildings (often, ironically, beside "No Smoking" signs). Is this just due to lack of health information, or is something else at play?

Best wishes


HIFA profile: Julie N Reza is a UK-based specialist in communications for biosciences, global health & international development ( She predominantly works with NGOs and not-for-profit organisations. Previously she was the senior science editor at TDR, based at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva; prior to this she worked at the Wellcome Trust, UK, leading educational projects on international health topics including trypanosomiasis and trachoma. She has a PhD in immunology and a specialist degree in science communication. She also has several years research and postgraduate teaching experience. She is a member of the HIFA Steering Group and HIFA Social Media Working Group.

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