The Just Case for 'Get-Tough' Anti-smoking Policies

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , August 22, 2011

IU Health has discovered what many of the nation’s hospitals and healthcare providers have come to understand: They must be the tip of the spear in tobacco cessation and other broad public health initiatives.

First, as Ladd points out, it’s a patient safety issue. Second-hand smoke is dangerous. The stinky residue contains carcinogens that can prompt allergic reactions or asthma attacks among patients, their families, and coworkers. A British study last year attributed about 600,000 deaths globally each year to second-hand smoke.

Second, healthcare is a labor-intensive field. More than 14 million Americans are employed in healthcare. IU Health has 24,000 employees statewide. If a large sector of the economy that is dedicated to the well-being of others cannot take the lead controlling a huge societal cost driver for employee healthcare, who will?

Finally, healthcare sets the example for the rest of the nation to follow. It’s hard to lecture patients about the dangers of smoking, when they look out your hospital window and see a half-dozen caregivers in green scrub suits sparking up on the loading bay. Nobody should smoke -- particularly anyone who works in healthcare. They can’t plead ignorance.

All the hospital and health system executive I have spoken with who back aggressive anti-smoking policies for employees also point out that their systems offer smoking cessation classes and other help for employees who want to quit.

Health plans have medical alternatives, such as the patch.

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3 comments on "The Just Case for 'Get-Tough' Anti-smoking Policies"

Paul Deen (8/24/2011 at 11:24 AM)
I understand the dangers of second hand smoke. The article mentioned that if a patient saw someone smoking in scrubs on the hospital campus, a wrong message would be sent. What kind of message is sent when a patient is approached by an obese employee? Does the hospital have the right monitor what these folks eat when they are not working? I would much rather any hospital focus their energy and resources on eliminating staph in their facilities which is killing thousands of patients each year. There are many things a hospital can do to stop killing these people whose only crime is admitting themselves into their facilities. This whole article sounds like our current government...paying a large amount of attention on smaller, big brother issues while they ignore the larger issues.

Joe Tye (8/23/2011 at 10:39 AM)
There is one other more subtle reason for hospitals to not hire smokers. Over the years, the tobacco industry has done everything it can to undermine public appreciation of the real dangers of smoking. They are no longer able to dress up actors in white coats and claim that more doctors smoke their brands and the Tobacco Institute (the mother of all fraud) is now defunct, but that is still their message. Anytime someone sees a hospital worker smoke, it reinforces the tobacco industry message – it can't be that dangerous if hospital people do it. Another reason to not hire smokers is simple marketing. With smoking relegated to the back alleys and fresh air the norm, smoking is increasingly viewed as low class, unprofessional, and downright stupid by a growing proportion of the population. I'm sure I'm not the only one who would entrust the healthcare of my family to a doctor I saw smoking out in the parking lot. Employees who smoke off the job are, pure and simple, bad advertising for the hospitals where they work. One more thought: when Dr. C. Everett Koop called for a smoke-free America back in 1986, everyone wondered what he'd been smoking. Today, we are virtually there. It is a great metaphor for the power of a few dedicated people to change the world, and for the sort of determined toughness that healthcare leaders will need to face the never-ending healthcare crisis in the years to come. Thanks again for your thoughtful comments on a very important issue.

Lance (8/23/2011 at 9:15 AM)
I always find these anti-smoking policies to be such an oxymoron - I am 110% in favor of totally banning smoking anywhere, anyplace and never having tobacco available to anyone. Problem is, our politicians are addicted to the taxes from tobacco sales as much as the smokers are addicted to the nicotine. Therefore, there will always be smokers and the dilema of what to do with them for using a dangerous but LEGAL product.




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