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Background: Tobacco smoking rates are increasing in developing countries and so are tobacco-related chronic diseases. Reported figures from the WHO show rates of smoking in Egypt as high as 20% but limited information is available about smoking specifically among physicians and medical students.

Materials and methods: Final-year medical students of Cairo University were surveyed regarding their tobacco behavior and attitudes using a modified Global Health Professions Student Survey. We approached 220 students by randomly selecting clinical units into which they were assigned and requested completion of the survey.

Results: Ever users of some form of tobacco comprised 46.7% of students sampled, current users of cigarettes comprised 17.4%, and current users of water pipe 'sheesha' comprised 17.6%. The vast majority (87.7%) of students believed that smoking is a public health problem in Cairo and supported restriction of tobacco. Yet, only 58.5% stated that they were taught it is important for physicians to provide tobacco education materials to patients. Among ever users of cigarettes, 54.4% believed health professionals do not serve as health role models for patients, and only a small percentage of all students (34.2%) stated that they had received some form of training on smoking cessation in their medical curriculum to be able to instruct patients.

Conclusion and recommendations: A high rate of smoking was revealed among medical students in Cairo. Overall, approximately 23.4% of students were currently smoking cigarettes and/or sheesha, and 46.7% were ever users of some form of tobacco. A formal antitobacco program for medical students should be incorporated into their medical curriculum to change the attitudes of medical students and overcome the anticipated increase in chronic diseases in Egypt.

(C) 2012 Egyptian Public Health Association