By Stella A. Bialous, RN, DrPH, FAAN

stella bialous
ONS member Stella A. Bialous, RN, DrPH, FAAN, is an associate professor in residence in the social and behavioral sciences department in the School of Nursing at the University of California, San Francisco.

The World Health Organization indicated that tobacco use is the most preventable cause of cancer worldwide. Globally, more than 7 million people die each year from causes associated with tobacco use and tobacco-related diseases. Despite recent trends that show falling rates for U.S.-based smokers, much work still must be done. Oncology nurses around the world can make a difference by engaging in prevention and treatment tactics, working with policymakers, and educating their communities and patients about tobacco control. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 40 million people in the United States are current smokers. If every nurse were able to help just one or two patients quit smoking per year, that number would drop dramatically in time. Oncology nurses—and nurse scientists—are in a prime position to educate patients and their colleagues as well as develop effective interventions to improve tobacco control. 

Studies have shown that improved nursing education for smoking cessation increases the rate at which nurses encourage their patients to quit smoking. Furthermore, integrating tobacco control education into nursing curricula also increased nurses’ level of awareness and empathy for patients who do smoke, potentially leading to further implementation of evidence-based guidelines for smoking cessation in the future. 

New intervention modalities and novel ways to implement current smoking cessation evidence-based guidelines are tremendous areas of opportunity for future nurse scientists. Understanding how to provide patients with necessary information and smoking cessation support can potentially lead the nursing profession to improve tobacco quit rates and save lives on a large-scale level. 

However, the biggest worldwide impediment to successful tobacco control is the tobacco industry, which has a powerful lobby and is economically influential in many countries, contributing vast amounts of money to political activities. To drive successful change, such as instituting smoke-free environments or standardizing tobacco warnings on packaging, policymakers and elected officials must have a political will and fortitude to enact necessary legislation. Oncology nurses—and the nursing profession in general—are key to those efforts. The nurse’s voice is strong, and we are a respected profession that can educate and advocate for tobacco control at all levels of government.  

Part of advancing tobacco control efforts is normalizing the conversation every day. Engaging in broader community efforts can be valuable, and nurses can find ways to share smoking prevention education at all levels of involvement. That could mean writing a letter to the editor of your newspaper, advocating for more smoke-free zones in your community, conducting research for tobacco control, or reaching out to your elected officials and engaging them on a national level. 

Oncology nurses are formidable opponents to the tobacco industry. Share your expertise, advance tobacco control efforts, and ultimately lower the high rates of preventable cancers and improve the outcomes of cancer treatment.