One-tenth of medical students smoke regularly

Despite an increase in awareness campaigns that has made smoking cigarettes less popular than its heyday, the percentage of regular smokers among future doctors attending Malta’s medical school appears not to have changed significantly since 2008

The percentage of active smokers among Maltese medical students remains considerably high, especially in view of research showing that doctors who smoke may not be as effective as other non-smoking doctors in advising and succeeding in getting their patients to quit smoking
The percentage of active smokers among Maltese medical students remains considerably high, especially in view of research showing that doctors who smoke may not be as effective as other non-smoking doctors in advising and succeeding in getting their patients to quit smoking

Despite an increase in awareness campaigns that has made smoking cigarettes less popular than its heyday, the percentage of regular smokers among future doctors attending Malta’s medical school appears not to have changed significantly since 2008, with the percentage decreasing slightly from 12% to 11%.

A study published in Malta Medical Gazette shows that despite the greater health awareness expected from students aiming to become doctors, more than a quarter of medical students are either regular smokers or social smokers, with the number increasing from 24% among first-years to 28% among fifth-years.

The study shows that while 69% have of medical students have never smoked, 11% are active smokers while 16% are social smokers. Only 1% have switched to vaping while 4% have quitted smoking.

The authors of the study call on the health and education authorities to recognize and tackle this issue “so that all future doctors can become role models for their patients”.

The study was based on a survey of all medical students enrolled in the medical school; 465 of 717 eligible students participated in the survey.

The authors of the study contend that awareness campaigns are not producing statistically significant results in reducing the number of active smokers among medical students.

The survey shows that social smokers among medical students, smoke more frequently when surrounded by fellow friends, especially whilst drinking alcohol.

55% of smokers admitted to smoking during stressful situations, 33% use smoking as a coping mechanism, 14% smoke due to peer pressure whilst 8% smoke to aid their weight loss.

The vast majority of the smoking cohort which includes both social and daily smokers, admitted to smoking less than five cigarettes per day (67%), whilst a further 18% smoked 6-10 cigarettes a day. The remaining 16% smoked between 11-20 cigarettes per day.

The 10.8% smoking rate amongst Maltese medical students is a comparatively low rate when taking into account those in a number of European countries, including Slovakia (21%), Germany (24%), Spain (37%) and Greece (41%) – all from 2005 data.

However, Malta followed a general international trend in seeing the medical student population of a country enjoying a lower smoking rate than the national rate of that country. In fact, other studies show that on a national level, 20.2% of females and 29.7% of males are smokers.

The study shows that female medical students were more likely to be social smokers and more likely to try to quit.

But the percentage of active smokers among Maltese medical students remains considerably high, especially in view of research showing that doctors who smoke may not be as effective as other non-smoking doctors in advising and succeeding in getting their patients to quit smoking.

A study conducted locally in 2007-2008 had showed that the prevalence of smoking was that of 12.3%. But the study did consider social smokers. Medical students continue to smoke despite direct exposure both to the teaching of the harmful effects of cigarettes, as well as to the experience of patients suffering from the effects of continued smoking.

The study recommends counselling to smokers on campus, more emphasis on the deleterious effects of tobacco and that smoking should be banned from all hospital grounds and premises “in order to further decrease smoking areas available and hence decrease smoking”.

The study was undertaken by medical doctors Matthew Pizzuto, Brendan Caruana Montaldo, Matthew Seychell and medical student Tamara Muscat.

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