Smoking doctors

Here’s an interesting subject: what’s the deal with so many doctors smoking? This morning I rode my bike to work. For those of you who know Manhattan well, I come up the East Side from Chinatown on 1st Ave, all the way to East 34th. It’s a total Hospital Row: you pass by three or four major facilities. And outside each hospital there’s a line of doctors and nurses smoking (they outnumber the nonmedical folks like housekeeping and security!)
Do you guys have friends and acquaintances who are doctors and smoke? Do they feel some obligation to set a good example for healthy behavior? Personal note: I would never moralize on this subject. Confession: I love to smoke-- it looks cool, tastes good, and as Fran Lebowitz once said, it’s the whole point of being an adult. Nevertheless, I know it’s a totally fatal habit, for the lungs, for the heart, for stroke, and I resolved never to “borrow” another cigarette at a party or whatnot once I decided to become a clinician. I want to be able to tell my patients to quit without feeling like a hypocritical jerk. Any opinions on this issue?

From my experiences the biggest culprits of smoking are cardiologist…go figure. I have noticed an inordinate amount of health care providers who smoke and then turn around and chastise patients for smoking…I personally don’t agree with it but then again I also feel that a physician should embody health and vitality. Not only looking strong and healthy but also living the lifestyle but those are my rules for a physician. The only physician who will have those rules enforced upon them will be myself. To each his own. If people, be they physicians or whatever, have the addiction to smoke then that is their thing. As long as they’re treating their patients to the best of their ability their smoking doesn’t present a problem. The “recreational” drug using providers are where I draw the line…
Rant over

Hi there,
I can tell you that not a single physician resident or attending smokes cigarettes at UVA. The nurses and technicians are the only ones in the smoking areas. While I enjoy an occasional Cohiba with a very dry martini, I do not smoke cigarettes or smoke at the hospital.

Have you tried an Opus-X?

I’ve had more cigarettes (n=20?) in medical school than ever before. In fact, last year, I was in a snit. I was so irritated by all the Good People in medical school, capital G, capital P, that I fantasized about lighting up a cigarette in front of our education building and smoking it with gusto before class. I enjoyed this idea so much that I began craving it. Talking to a woman in a bar during this period, I got her to give me five cigarettes in a row, which she took great pleasure in teaching me how to smoke.

More recently, I smoked while in Europe (because what’s nicer after a long meal if you don’t have to go out in the cold to do it?), and even more recently than that at a party with a fellow medical student who is an out-and-out shameless smoker.

I’m also overweight for what it’s worth: my BMI should be a good five or six points lower than it is.

I try to make the changes I recommend to my patients–and I don’t intend to become a smoker. At the same time, it’s not my job to live a perfect life. It’s my job to tell my patients how they can improve their health. That doesn’t mean I don’t ruin my own from time to time. And sometimes doing so actually gives me insight into the difficulty of making changes–and gives me more empathy into what my patients face when they have to make changes.

So, I guess what I’m saying is, everyone in medical school should smoke. And then they should have to quit just to know what it’s like.

No, not really.



I agree with you joe-experience is life’s greatest teacher. As someone who’s battled with quitting smoking, i have the hardest time explaining to someone who’s never smoked how difficult quitting can be. It’s been explained to me that the physical addition is comparatively worse than cocaine withdrawls.
I’d also like to point out that doctors are human too, and subject to the same whims and mistakes that everyone else is. With all the anti smoking legislation and education nowadays, the average consumer is pretty knowledgable about the effects and consequences of smoking. And they smoke anyhow. It’s a personal choice, allbeit a bad one. And drinking is unhealthy too, but we don’t close down all the bars because we trust things like this to personal judgement. If you know the consequences of your actions and still choose to do it, then as long as it doesn’t affect anyone else (I know-2nd hand smoke) then it’s on you.

Haa, boy you hit it right there, that’s where Id draw the line too. I know a couple docs who smoke, and some nurses, but overall, they are in the minority at the hospital I work at. One thing that does bug me, is to hear a 5’3, 300lb nurse say “Yeah, well–that’s job security for me” referring to her fellow nurse who just stepped out for a “respiratory treatment”. Im like, wait a minute?! I actually heard this, in a round about way, isnt that the pot calling the kettle black?
I dont think it is right for someone to say that smoking should not be a of a physician’s lifestyle due to the profession when the same overweight person is not exactly portraying a healthy image either. Dont misinterpret me, I have no personal problems with smokers or those who are overweight. I just think sometimes people think one-sidedly.

Go smoking doctors! (Sounds like the name of a team or something.)

I took up smoking and toting around hard-cover german language philosophy books when I was in college so that for the love of god everyone would stop assuming I was some kind of naive goody goody (just because I HAPPENED to have arrived at college with an 80’s perm and a pink rain slicker). For a brief moment the plot seemed to work since soon enough I started dating this guy who lived in a rat infested apartment above the Eagles Club, and you can’t get much grittier than that. We smoked unfiltered Lucky Strikes with the windows closed and listened to “I Walk the Line” by Johnie Cash so many times I can’t even count. While all my vegetarian friends were chowing down on Capt’n Crunch in the school cafeteria, we were grilling steakes on the concrete balcony. The only problem with this lifestyle was that nothing since could ever live up to it. Plus it turned out that I am one of the few people in the world who COULDN’T get addicted to cigarettes. They just looked sooooooo fake on me that it was a joke. They looked more fake than my then-dyed black hair.

I don’t smoke now but I don’t like the anti-smoking preaching either. Same goes for drinking. In Denmark they RECOMMEND on average 2 beers a day for women, 3 for men. Those are not Bud Lite’s they’re suggesting either. I won’t even tell you about their delicious recipes for liver pate. Their high cholesterol mark is higher than ours too and social smoking is totally ok. I think their life expectancy is higher than ours, no doubt because people are motivated to live longer when they’re having a bit of fun. (Ok, I’m drawing on 5 year old memories here that were made before I’d ever cracked open a science book, so they could be a bit skewed but you get the point.)

Also I’ve been stuck overnight in a 4-person train car riding through Serbia with soldiers who were smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and that, let me tell you, is worth a lifetime of second hand smoke.

Oh, and I live mainly on junk food. If I eat a vegetable it is a big deal.

However, I do not have much love for the tobacco industry.

I think, in general, docs are human and subject to bad habits like anyone else. The fact that they have been educated to know better doesn’t change the fact that they may continue in those habits. Though I’m dieting now, I am entering school as an overweight medical students (thats MORBIDLY OBESE for enquiring minds) and though I expect comments, I will have answers as well. Of course, I can do that, being that I am working on it. However, I think the defensiveness some patients have about medical personnel smoking, being overweight, whatever, is a personal rationalization as to why they can continue in their own habits. However, I’m not for the moralizing attitude regarding these habits. People SHOULD (perhaps) not smoke, watch what they eat, not “let themselves go”, etc. but that cannot be forced. Another scenario from my ethics class: If overweight people or smokers CHOOSE to endulge in a health-impairing habit, should insurance (or Medicaid) be obliged to shell out treatment money??? Even further, what about Medicaid and women having babies year after year?? The line between people’s personal choices, rights, and the common good (for society) can be very gray at times.

Another one that amazes me – the respiratory therapists! If you’ve ever worked in a hospital, you’ve probably noticed that the respiratory therapists make up quite a percentage of those at the smoke shack (or “butt hut” as they call it at my hospital). In fact, a friend of mine actually STARTED smoking after she became a respiratory therapist. Go figure. . . .