Smoke-free is the way to be

Published Jul 17, 2013 at 11:33 am (Updated Jul 17, 2013 at 11:33 am)

Last week, UPMC announced that beginning July 1, 2014, its staff – including employees, doctors, students and volunteers – will be smoke and tobacco-free throughout the work day. This means that not only are tobacco products prohibited on the properties, but that all staff will be prohibited from smoking or using other tobacco products during their breaks, even if they leave the property.

The news created quite a stir, but UPMC is certainly not the first to require its staff to refrain from smoking during the workday (UPMC campuses have been smoke-free since 2007). The Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic are tobacco-free during the workday. Locally, the Washington Hospital became smoke- and tobacco-free during the workday in October 2011.

UPMC’s Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources and Administrative Services Officer Gregory Peaslee was quoted in the release: “Our patients are best cared for, and both patients and visitors have the best experience, when our employees are at their very healthiest and when the workplace is free of tobacco.”

He’s absolutely right. No amount of breath mints, perfume or other prohibitive measure is going to mask the smell of smoke that lingers on a smoker’s breath, on their hair and on their clothes. What parent would want a nurse who smells like an ashtray to hold and care for their newborn baby? Beyond the filth factor, let’s not forget that third-hand smoke – residue which sticks to the hair, clothes and so on – can not only react with common indoor pollutants to create a toxic mix, but that infants, children and nonsmoking adults are put at risk of developing tobacco-related health problems when they are exposed to it, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Of course, those in the medical profession are more educated than most to know, first-hand, the effects of tobacco use – oral and lung cancers to burns, increased risk for myriad diseases, emphysema, high blood pressure, the list goes on and on. Not only are they armed with this knowledge, they treat people with these conditions on a daily basis. Unfortunately, those are the same people who light up themselves.

The argument that comes up when a policy like this is put in to place is “what other freedoms are going to be taken away from me?” Smokers should keep in mind that their freedom to light up whenever, wherever, impedes on other people’s freedom to breathe clean air – and receive medical treatment from someone who is not exposing them to third-hand smoke.

As little as 25 years ago, some businesses and corporations allowed workers to smoke inside the office. Smoking used to be allowed in shopping malls and in restaurants. That “freedom” has been taken away slowly but surely, and we highly doubt many people have complained about getting home from the mall and smelling as fresh as they did when they left the house, or being able to enjoy a meal out without having to breathe in someone else’s cigarette smoke.

UPMC isn’t just blindly or out of the blue passing this policy. The non-profit is offering support, one-on-one counseling with health coaches, as well as nicotine patches, gum oral inhalers and more to help its staff cut back or quit. They will still hire smokers.

Hopefully, the members of the UPMC staff who do smoke focus on quitting in the next 12 months so it is not even an issue for them.

We are looking forward to seeing even more companies follow suit.

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