Background: Diseases associated with smoking are a foremost cause of premature death in the world, both in developed and developing countries. Eliminating smoking can do more to improve health and prolong life than any other measure in the field of preventive medicine. Today's medical students will play a prominent role in future efforts to prevent and control tobacco use.
Methods: A cross-sectional, self-administered, anonymous survey of fifth-year medical students in Berlin, Germany was conducted in November 2007. The study explored the prevalence of smoking among medical students. We assessed their current knowledge regarding tobacco dependence and the effectiveness of smoking cessation methods. Students' perceived competence to counsel smokers and promote smoking cessation treatments was also explored. Analyses were based on responses from 258 students (86.6% response rate).
Results: One quarter of the medical students surveyed were current smokers. The smoking rate was 22.1% among women, 32.4% among men. Students underestimated smoking-related mortality and the negative effect of smoking on longevity. A considerable number of subjects erroneously assumed that nicotine causes coronary artery disease. Students' overall knowledge of the effectiveness of smoking cessation methods was inadequate. Only one third of the students indicated that they felt qualified to counsel patients about tobacco dependence.
Conclusions: This study reveals serious deficiencies in knowledge and counseling skills among medical students in our sample. The curriculum of every medical school should include a tobacco module. Thus, by providing comprehensive training in nicotine dependence interventions to medical students, smokers will have access to the professional expertise they need to quit smoking.