Ochsner CEO Rails Against Smoking

John Commins, April 9, 2012

Ochsner Health System CEO Patrick J. Quinlan, MD, understands the unease that many people feel with the potentially invasive nature of workplace wellness programs.

How far may employers intrude into the lives of workers in the name of lower healthcare costs and higher productivity?

For Quinlan, however, the clear point of demarcation is smoking.

On April 1, the New Orleans-based, eight-hospital health system and its more than 13,000 employees marked their one-year anniversary as a tobacco-free workplace. HealthLeaders Media spoke with Quinlan this month to mark the anniversary and record his broadside against tobacco—one of the biggest sources of preventable death in the United States.   

"I am sympathetic to the idea of 'where do you draw the line?'—which is both true and a debating tactic that attorneys and anybody else can use to reduce something to the absurd," Quinlan says.

"This has nothing to do with eating Hostess Twinkies. This has nothing to do with anything other than a poison that shouldn't be here today," he says. "This is a scourge that has somehow become normal and the costs are enormous. In Louisiana alone it's $3 billion in lost productivity and 6,500 people dying directly. This is all tangible. You can't say that if someone gained a pound or didn't walk around the block."

Quinlan contends that smoking occupies "a wildly different category" where the individual's right to smoke should not outweigh the health menace and financial burden tobacco imposes on others in the form of higher health insurance premiums, medical costs, and lost productivity.  

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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