Nurses Against Big Tobacco

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Having worked in tobacco policy research for the past 13 years, Lisa Maggio, MSN, OCN, CTTS, a nurse in Lexington, KY, has attended several national conferences on tobacco and health. Through these experiences, Maggio has networked with other nurses who share her passion for tobacco control.

One of these was Ruth Malone, PhD, RN, FAAN, a nurse researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, and founder of the Nightingales, a group of nurse activists who volunteer to build public attention on the behavior of the tobacco industry and its contribution to tobacco-related disease and death.

“The Nightingales provide the passion to challenge the tobacco companies, the ‘vector’ of many diseases, and the expertise to make a difference,” Maggio said. “Nurses need to know that they can make a considerable difference in helping their patients quit smoking or using other tobacco products.

Nurses Wage Personal Battles With Tobacco

“When we don’t ask and offer a plan on how to quit, we are telling smokers it’s not important and that we don’t care,” she continued. “Nurses are the perfect providers to address tobacco-use dependence.”

A Grassroots Group

Julia Buss, MS, RN, a nurse in San Francisco, manages the Nightingales Nurses website. Buss began with no background in web design, but embraced the opportunity to learn something new. Logging an hour or two each week, Buss maintains www.nightingalesnurses.org and serves as the primary point of contact for inquiries coming in through the site, as well as Facebook and Twitter.

“We have about 200 members,” Buss said. “We’re fairly decentralized, communicating most via e-mail and a Yahoo! group. Our members do whatever they can. There’s no expectation or minimum requirement for what a volunteer should or could do. We mainly want to raise awareness about the tobacco industry itself – not put the blame on the individual, the tobacco user, but on the industry providing the product.”

Since 2004, ever Nightingales Nurses, including Buss and Maggio, have attended the annual shareholder meetings of major tobacco companies to voice their concerns as healthcare providers who regularly witness the negative effects of tobacco products. To do this, each of them had to become a shareholder first, buying one share apiece.

“With that one share, we have a right to say whatever we want to say,” Buss said. “The first year we went, one of the nurses asked for 2 minutes of silence to remember the people she cared for who died due to tobacco use. The board members and directors of this big tobacco company had to sit their in silence.”

‘Preventable Epidemic’

Another influential moment in the efforts of the Nightingales came in May, when they were in New York City for the Phillip Morris International shareholder meeting. Discussing how they could cut into the company’s profits, the nurses settled on a simple fact: if each of the country’s 2 million nurses could help one tobacco user quit, they could triple the current quit rate.

“By helping tobacco users quit, we would ultimately decrease the number of cigarettes smoked and the profits the tobacco companies would earn,” Maggio said. “Long-term we could also affect the billions of healthcare dollars spent each year to treat sick smokers.

“More than 70 percent of smokers see a physician each year and 70 percent of them want to quit smoking,” she continued. “Healthcare providers are slowly improving their efforts to address cessation; however, many feel they don’t have the time or expertise.”

Building on this idea, the Nightingales brainstormed the RN2Q1 campaign.

“RN2Q1 is sort of an abbreviation for every nurse to help at least one person quit tobacco every year,” Buss said. “We’re just getting started with it, asking our members to promote it in their areas and recruit other nurses.”

Registration for the RN2Q1 campaign can be done at the Nightingales website. Once a nurse signs up, each patient who pledges to quit must join the Nightingales Nurses Club at http://www.quitnet.com/, where either the nurse or the patient can enter data to track dollars saved and cigarettes not smoked.

“The tobacco industry spends more than $1 million an hour to suggest that cigarette smoking is cool, glamorous and fun,” Maggio said. “We believe it is socially irresponsible for the tobacco industry to continue to market and promote their deadly products. Our work is focused on building public attention on the behavior of the tobacco industry and its contribution to the preventable epidemic of tobacco-related disease and death.”

Rich Magda is senior associate editor at ADVANCE.

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