Smoking in Scotland: nurses -v- teachers

Monday 23 September 2002

A University of St Andrews graduate has discovered that smoking is more prevalent in Scottish nurses than Scottish teachers.

Dr Jacqueline Dutchak, who completed her PhD within the School of Geography and Geosciences, aimed to find out why some female nurses and teachers smoke, why some never start, and why others stop, by examining various social, environmental and economic factors.

Dr Dutchak, now Director of the National Collaborating Centre for Acute Care based at The Royal College of Surgeons of England in London, found that, of 1000 nurses and 1000 teachers surveyed, 31% of nurses and 7% of teachers were smokers. She also found that significantly more nurses smoke than other women in the same social class and significantly fewer teachers smoke than other women in the same social class.

Previous research has found mainly positive outcomes from the existence of greater social capital within a group or community – for example, more trust and reciprocity – and that engagement and identity with the group resulted in lower crime levels, better health outcomes and economic prosperity. However, for the nurses in this study, greater social capital was related to higher rates of smoking and lower rates of quitting. Furthermore, smoking is often used by women in order to create space and time for themselves in order to break from reality. It is also shown to be used to by many women as a means of exerting control over their life.

This results were gained by examining the teachers’ and nurses’ home and work environments, interaction with colleagues within and outwith the workplace and their levels of trust, networks and co-operation in the workplace and home lives. In addition to looking at their current circumstances, the study also examined retrospective social capital and deprivation.

Dr Dutchak believes significant lessons can be learned from the study – “Female smoking usually begins at quite a young age so the main social and physical environments that contribute to first tobacco use are those of childhood and adolescence. However, there are elements of one’s current home and work environment that may contribute to the maintenance or cessation of smoking. Policies to prevent smoking or aid in its cessation must recognise the import roles of social, environmental and biological influences. Health promotion programmes must do more than educate and advise smokers on their individual behaviour – they must examine why girls and women use smoking to mediate their reality and gain a sense of control in their life. The links between social and/or financial disadvantage and smoking suggest that investments must be made to improve the life chances of those most at risk of tobacco use.”

She continued – “Cigarette smoking is one of the main causes of illness and premature death in developed countries. Since almost one third of women in Scotland smoke, the health implications are paramount. Smoking rates among female professionals have decreased in recent years in the UK but they have not fallen equally for all occupations within this group. Historically, female nurses have had higher rates of smoking than other women have in the general population while female teachers have had much lower rates. Recent work has revealed that smoking prevalence among nurses has declined in the UK and has reached levels similar to or lower than that of other women. This study refutes the recent work by others that suggests nurses’ smoking no longer exceeds that of the general population.”

The study involved questionnaires being delivered via the General Teaching Council for Scotland to a random sample of 1000 teachers. Meanwhile, 1000 questionnaires were delivered to 10 Primary Care Trusts in Scotland who distributed them to nurses. Discussion groups were held with nurses and teachers prior to questionnaire development and following analysis of the questionnaire results.

The study was financially supported by the Committee of Vice- Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom, the School of Geography and Geosciences at the University of St Andrews and the School of Geography at the University of Leeds. It also received the support and co-operation of the General Teaching Council for Scotland and 10 Primary Care Trusts in Scotland.


NOTE TO EDITORS – Dr Dutchak can be contacted on telephone 020 7869 6631, fax 020 7869 6639 or email [email protected].

Issued by Beattie Media on behalf of the University of St Andrews For more information please contact: Claire Grainger on 01334 462530, 07730 415 015 or email cg24@st- View University press releases on- line at Ref: smoking/standrews/chg/24sep2002

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