"I have every sympathy with the American who was so horrified by what he had read of the effects of smoking that he gave up reading."
- Henry G. Strauss
I have worked in hospitals long enough to remember when there were few smoking restrictions. The air in the emergency room where I had my first hospital job as an 18-year-old nursing assistant was thick with smoke from the nurses and physicians. As a medical student, I recall conferences where the slides were projected through a haze of smoke. I remember one of the most prominent surgeons at my medical school smoking cigars while making hospital rounds. One of my deans kept his pipe half-lit in the pocket of his lab coat, pulling it out between patients.
During my residency, there was a smoking lounge adjacent to the operating room where some of the surgeons gathered between cases. Across town, the VA had the cheapest cigarettes anywhere and patients would leave after their appointments with shopping bags full of low-cost smokes. Because the VA did not allow the veterans to smoke in their rooms, we residents would often head first to the smoking lounge when we needed to find one of our patients. Even at the cancer hospital where I did my fellowship training, patients smoked on the hospital floors and several of the doctors smoked in their offices.
My, how things have changed! A recent report
confirms that 45 percent of hospital campuses nationwide are, like our own, completely smoke free including the buildings and surrounding open spaces. In 1992, only 3 percent of hospital campuses were smoke-free.
Despite the declining number of smokers, though, some hospital employees and patients continue to struggle with tobacco addiction. Every day, I watch people duck out though the garages to go for walks around the grounds and then catch the odor of smoke on them as they return from the out-of-doors.
A while back, I spotted an employee with whom I work heading out for a walk. “Where are you going?”
I asked. “Isn’t it time to quit?”
“Y’know, Doc, I’d love to,”
he responded. “Talk to me when you get back.”
Later that day, I reviewed smoking cessation strategies with him and confirmed that he was truly motivated to quit. I handed him a prescription. “I think you can do it!”
I said. “Me, too,”
he replied and he meant it. He has been smoke-free for a year.
To be honest, when it was first proposed, I was not certain that a smoke-free campus would work. Certainly, there are those who continue to break the rules. On the other hand, I know several employees who have cut down or even quit smoking because of the policy.
Over 15 percent of lifelong smokers will develop cancer. The average smoker loses decades
off of his or her life. Having someone quit smoking before they become a patient of mine is a real pleasure for me. As much as I love my work, I love my friends and colleagues even more.