The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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January 4, 2013

Hospitals' tobacco ban going smoothly

JOHNSTOWN — Nancy Tyrrell wanted to quit smoking before Conemaugh Health System rolled out its new tobacco policy with the arrival of 2013.

As director for Conemaugh Home Health and for Conemaugh Regional Hospice, Tyrrell knew cutting down on tobacco would improve her health.

Tyrrell had tried to quit before.

She knew it wasn’t a sure thing – until a health scare and stay in the hospital as a patient got her off tobacco for good.

“I went cold turkey,” she said.

Kicking the habit has changed her outlook on tobacco use. She’s encouraging others to quit.

“There was no chance of going back to smoking after that,” Tyrrell said.

New tobacco policies went into effect on Tuesday at hospitals across the region, but officials say education and awareness programs helped reduce backlash.

Conemaugh and Altoona Regional health systems’ smoking policies target employees, visitors and volunteers.

“It’s been smooth so far,” Altoona spokesman Dave Cuzzolina said, recapping advance preparations that made the rollout “almost anti-climactic.”

Altoona now prohibits tobacco use on all hospital property and will no longer hire tobacco users.

Conemaugh has instituted smoke-free shifts, prohibiting tobacco use by employees at work or on breaks.

“As a health-care system, we feel we have a responsibility to model healthy behavior for the community,” Cuzzolina said.

“We know it can affect not just the users, but those around them as well.”

The first few days of smoke-free shifts did not bring any major upheaval at Conemaugh, said Marlene Singer, community health coordinator.

“I think we did a good job of preparing everybody,” Singer said. “We gave them the tools to quit and an understanding of how it will improve their health.”

The same advance preparation helped Conemaugh make its campuses go tobacco-free in 2005, she added. Since then, employees, contracted workers and volunteers have been required to leave the property for smoke breaks.

As of Tuesday the smoke breaks were eliminated.

It won’t be too bad, Tyrrell said, recalling her twice-a-shift trips across Franklin Street to smoke outdoors in all types of weather.

“A year ago, I would have told you I had to have those smoke breaks,” she said. “Now I don’t miss them.”

Free smoking cessation help is provided by both health systems for the employees.

Participation has been mixed, Singer said. Conemaugh’s ongoing classes may have seen a slight enrollment uptick as the latest tightening approached.

“Just because there is a new policy doesn’t mean they are ready to quit,” she said.

If employees can’t attend a class, the hospital can provide help with nicotine replacement and phone calls for support.

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