• smoking;
  • nursing students;
  • beliefs;
  • attitudes;
  • behaviours;
  • survey

Aim.  To report findings about student nurses' attitudes, beliefs and personal behaviour in relation to tobacco issues.

Rationale.  Nurses have the potential to influence clients' behaviours and public policy concerning tobacco use. However, a review of the literature suggests that this is not happening. Further understanding of nursing students' attitudes, beliefs and behaviours regarding tobacco use is needed in order to develop strategies which can positively impact on their future health promotion role.

Methods.  A cross-sectional survey of the total population of baccalaureate nursing students in one Canadian province was employed. Students were asked to complete a self-administered questionnaire, which included questions related to their smoking history; stage of behavioural change, and beliefs and attitudes towards tobacco. Students also completed the Health Promotion Lifestyle Profile (HPLP) and the Fagerström Nicotine Tolerance Scale.

Findings.  Two hundred and seventy-two students (61·9%) responded. Sixty (22·1%) indicated that they smoked daily or in social situations. These smokers were found to have a fairly low level of nicotine dependence and although 91·4% said they wanted to quit, few were actively engaged in the quitting process (16·9%). When comparing the beliefs and attitudes of smoking and non-smoking students, proportionally more of the non-smokers agreed that smokers will need close family/friends to help them quit; that the health of society should be protected by laws against smoking; and that nurses should set a non-smoking example. Non-smokers indicated more health promoting behaviours on items in the HPLP especially on the variables of physical activity, nutrition and stress management.

Conclusions.  Nurses have the potential to influence clients' behaviours and public policy concerning tobacco use. Developing future nurses with the knowledge and skill to do so needs to be an important emphasis of nursing curricula.