Dr. Brian Sands started smoking during a backpacking trip across Europe in the summer between college and medical school. Two of the three friends he was traveling with were smokers. He smoked all through med school and part of his residency. So did many of his fellow med students -- and the doctors who taught them.
"I remember an attending physician was demonstrating how to palpate a patient's abdomen and he was smoking as he did it. He actually palpated this woman's abdomen with one hand while holding a cigarette in the other," said Dr. Sands, a psychiatrist who quit smoking more than 20 years ago. Today he runs the Quit Smoking Programs at Woodhull Hospital Center and Cumberland Diagnostic and Treatment Center.
Sands and other medical personnel who run HHC's Quit Smoking Clinics may soon see an uptick in the number of colleagues seeking their help. In mid-November a new law goes into effect in New York City that prohibits smoking on or near hospital grounds. This extends HHC's own smoking ban, which currently forbids smoking in hospital buildings and parking garages.
In signing the law on Aug. 13, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in New York City. Preventing tobacco-related illness and death continues to be a key priority of his administration. Keeping the air around a hospital smoke-free is especially important, he said.
"People suffering from illnesses are often the most vulnerable to the consequences of second-hand smoke and therefore it only makes sense that we take steps to protect them," Bloomberg said.
The law prohibits smoking on "hospital grounds and twenty feet from any entrance to such grounds." Signs will be put up as reminders, and anyone who runs outside for a smoke now risks getting a ticket from hospital security and paying a fine.
Nowadays it seems ironic that there are healthcare workers who smoke. "You really are looked down upon as a healthcare provider if you smoke," Dr. Sands said. But they start smoking for the same reasons other people do: people around them are doing it, to relieve stress, or because it makes them feel cool and sophisticated. They also find it hard to quit for the same reasons: it's a chemical and behavioral addiction. And like others, healthcare workers think cancer and other illnesses will strike other people, but not them.
HHC has helped more than 25,000 patients to quit smoking over the last three years. Research suggests that as a result, at least one-third of these patients, or about 8,000 former smokers, will avoid smoking-related disease and premature death. HHC offers individuals a variety of ways to quit, including nicotine replacement therapy, medication, counseling and case management to help patients stay in treatment.
HHC hospital employees who want to quit smoking can get information from Employee Health Services or the Quit Smoking Clinic in their facility. Other New Yorkers can learn about HHC's Quit Smoking Clinics by visiting nyc.gov/hhc or by calling 311.