Background. Smoking is a major cause of morbidity and mortality. Although nurses have an important role in health promotion, and are well placed to see the harmful effects of tobacco smoking, studies suggest that they smoke at much the same rate as the general population.
Aim. The aim of this paper is to report a study examining undergraduate nursing students’ knowledge about the impact of smoking on health, and their attitudes towards smokers and smoking.
Methods. The study took place in 2001, using a non-probability sample of 366 undergraduate nursing students from an Australian university. Participants completed the Smoking and Health Promotion instrument. Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance provided an explanatory framework for the findings.
Results. Most respondents who were still smoking began the habit while in high school. Students had greater generic than specialized knowledge about the effects of smoking on health, and there was no significant difference between second and third year students’ knowledge. Those who still smoked had less favourable attitudes towards smoking-related health promotion than those who had never smoked or stopped smoking. Non-smokers were more supportive of non-smokers’ rights than those who continued to smoke, while those who had stopped smoking were undecided. There was minimal association between levels of knowledge and attitudes about being sensitive to smoking-related health risks.
Conclusion. The findings have implications for both high school education and undergraduate nursing education, and for the recruitment of students to undergraduate nursing programmes. More attention needs to be given in undergraduate nursing programmes to smoking and smoking-related illnesses, and to nurses’ role in smoking health promotion.