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To smoke or not to smoke? At NIH, it's quickly becoming a matter
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, 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 http://tobaccofree.nih.gov/.
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
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.
- A web site containing guides to preparing to quit, quitting
and "staying quit," found at www.smokefree.gov.
- 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 http://intranet.hhs.gov/tobacco/.
To set up a TTY call, email Louis Glass at LGlass@psc.gov.
- NIH Work and Family Life Center: To obtain a list of local
smoking-cessation programs and resources call (301) 435-1619