UW Today

May 31, 2011

UW Medicine goes smoke- and tobacco-free

UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine

Harborview Medical Center and UW Medical Center have become smoke- and tobacco-free facilities as of Tuesday, May 31, also designated by the World Health Organization as World No Tobacco Day.

All designated smoking areas will be phased out on both campuses. The two medical centers join Northwest Hospital & Medical Center, which has been smoke free since 2005, and more than half of the other King County hospitals – 13 out of 21 – that are already smoke free.

Paul Ramsey, CEO of UW Medicine, put his full support behind the initiative from the start. “Health professionals should be leaders in demonstrating activities and behaviors that can improve health,” he said. “One such activity is exercise and the other is a healthy lifestyle, which would include not smoking.”

UW researchers, including those based at the Institute for Health Metrics & Evaluation (IHME), have concluded that improving smoking cessation efforts could make a difference in health outcomes around the world. IHME research published in PLoS Medicine in 2009 found that smoking, high blood pressure, and being overweight or obese are responsible for the largest number of preventable deaths in the United States.

Committees that included physicians, nurses, pharmacists, administrators, patient advisors, other staff and people who smoke spearheaded the smoke-free initiative at each hospital.

Each hospital is also providing information and resources to help staff quit smoking or remain tobacco free at work. Staff with UW benefits will have free access to the Quit for Life Program, which includes counseling and all U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved cessation medications.

“Early in my career as a general internist providing primary care, a large number of my patients who were generally healthy were also smokers,” said Ramsey. “A major part of the healthcare plan we developed for those patients was directed at smoking cessation. Based on my experience, many patients who smoke are unable to quit based on education alone. Assistance from health professionals can have a larger impact.”

The Joint Commission will unveil in July 2011 performance measures to address the assessment and treatment of tobacco, alcohol and other drug use for all hospitalized patients. 

Draft tobacco measures currently include screening patients and tracking those who receive or refuse counseling, cessation medications and follow-up care to help them quit.