Time for Healthcare Industry to Examine Tobacco Use Policy

John Commins, November 8, 2010

Nov. 18 marks the 35th Great American Smokeout. The anniversary provides an excellent opportunity to take stock of how far we've come to reduce the costly blight of tobacco, how far we've yet to travel, and what we can do to help others kick the deadly habit.

The battle against tobacco use—particularly smoking in public places—has been so steady and incremental over the decades that it's possible to forget how widespread smoking was in this country only a generation ago.

The American Cancer Society—sponsor of the Great American Smokeout—provides a nice timeline of success. Unfortunately, the battle is far from over. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids reports that 450,000 deaths each year are attributed to smoking or second-hand smoke. And although tobacco use continues to decline, one in five Americans—roughly 61 million people— still smoke.

Oddly, until the last decade or so, hospitals were notable laggards in the antismoking effort, with smoking policies that were less restrictive than those of steel mills.

In fairness to hospitals, they had to consider the stress associated with hospital visits for patients and their families—anxieties that could be at least temporarily relieved with a cigarette break.

Hospitals have moved from having designated indoor smoking areas to designated smoking areas outside the hospital doors, to butt-littered smokers' huts on the far reaches of the campus. Now, many hospitals are phasing out those enclaves—even banning smoking inside cars—and declaring their campuses tobacco-free zones.

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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