Medical students lack basic knowledge about smoking: findings from two European medical schools

Nicotine Tob Res. 2009 Jan;11(1):92-8. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntn007. Epub 2009 Jan 27.


Introduction: Prevention of smoking-related disease is a major challenge to medicine. Although interventions delivered by clinicians can reduce smoking rates, the teaching of smoking cessation methods is not a top priority in most medical curricula.

Methods: Medical students from Göttingen, Germany (n = 1,435), and London (n = 656) were asked to complete a questionnaire on smoking-related mortality and the effectiveness of different approaches to smoking cessation. In addition, students' perceived competence to counsel smokers was assessed.

Results: Smoking-related mortality was underestimated by students from both study sites. The data suggest that smoking medical students greatly overestimated the chances of reaching old age as a smoker. A substantial number of students falsely assumed that nicotine causes coronary artery disease. Overall knowledge of the long-term effectiveness of smoking cessation methods was poor. For example, medical students from Göttingen considered "willpower alone" more effective than comprehensive group cessation programs. Less than a third of medical students from both study sites felt competent to counsel smoking patients. This finding was constant across different stages of medical education.

Discussion: Students in both countries lacked relevant information about smoking and health and the effectiveness of cessation methods. Given the importance of smoking in practically all aspects of medicine and the role of clinicians in advising patients on and aiding cessation, this problem urgently needs to be addressed.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Clinical Competence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / methods*
  • Female
  • Forecasting
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Smoking Cessation / methods*
  • Smoking Prevention*
  • Students, Medical / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • Young Adult