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Vol. LVII, No. 24
December 2, 2005

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Taking Our Own Best Advice
Policy Envisions a Tobacco-Free NIH

On the front page...

To smoke or not to smoke? At NIH, it's quickly becoming a matter of policy.

Each year, some 440,000 people die prematurely of diseases caused by smoking. In addition, 38,000 die from secondhand smoke-related illnesses, according to recent studies. In an effort to reverse these statistics and improve the health and well being of employees, former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson announced a year ago that the entire department would become tobacco-free. Because NIH has buildings both on and off campus and is unique in other ways (the Clinical Center hosts a certain percentage of patients who prefer to smoke, for example), the agency is working to overcome the many obstacles to meeting its goal of full compliance.


A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention commentary highlighted evidence that even as little as 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke can affect the coronary circulation of nonsmokers. Children who breathe secondhand smoke are at a greater risk of suffering from pneumonia, bronchitis and other lung diseases. They also have more ear infections and are more likely to develop asthma, says the American Lung Association. Furthermore, people who have never smoked but are exposed involuntarily to smoking heighten their risk of developing lung cancer. Annually, an estimated 3,000 non-smokers die of lung cancer and 35,000 die from heart disease attributable to secondhand smoke.

  NIH has launched a Tobacco-Free NIH web site for employees at

NIH, as one of the lead health agencies in government, is taking steps to become a role model for other agencies. By promoting tobacco-cessation programs to its employees, NIH and other HHS agencies believe they can increase employees' long-term success in quitting tobacco use, reduce absenteeism while improving work productivity and, most importantly, improve the health of employees who kick the habit.

As might be expected, NIH'ers' opinions differ markedly about the tobacco-free policy. A former smoker said, "Although it is a personal issue, if the employee wants to stop, it will afford him or her assistance. However, if it is still [the employee's] decision to smoke, it is an infringement of their rights."

Another smoker believes, "Any time something is shoved down your throat, the more resistant one becomes. However, for those who don't smoke, [smoking] presents a problem." Says a third smoker, "I would not sign up for smoking cessation because you feel the pressure...besides, smoking is so good. I've been smoking since I was 14. I quit for 8 months but was lured back. The bottom line...every smoker secretly wants to quit even though they complain about their civil rights being infringed upon." Lastly, from a non-smoker, "I don't think it's fair for smokers to subject non-smokers to secondhand smoke when studies have already proven it to be carcinogenic. Look, we know that we already have asbestos around NIH. Do we really need another cancer-causing substance in our midst? As a health organization, I think it is not only incumbent but imperative that NIH take the lead role in discouraging smoking in the workplace."

As the agency moves closer to reaching "A Tobacco-Free NIH," information is available to help tobacco users to quit. NIH has launched a Tobacco-Free NIH web site for employees at The site links NIH staff and contractors to information about tobacco use, cessation resources and health insurance coverage for tobacco cessation services. Tobacco-Free NIH will also link to the following useful resources:

  • A web site containing guides to preparing to quit, quitting and "staying quit," found at
  • Federal Occupational Health Services (FOHS) Tobacco Use Cessation Program: Provides free tobacco cessation treatment services to HHS smokers and other tobacco users who wish to quit through local clinics run by FOHS. The program is available at no cost to employees if their current health insurance plan does not cover over-the-counter treatment options for tobacco addiction. For more information call (206) 615-2546 or visit To set up a TTY call, email Louis Glass at
  • NIH Work and Family Life Center: To obtain a list of local smoking-cessation programs and resources call (301) 435-1619 (TTY 301-480-0690).
Although participation in a tobacco-cessation program is an employee's decision, the opportunity to "take our own best advice" and become a "tobacco-free NIH'er" is compelling.

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