The New Year began with a new smoke-free campaign launched by the Mississippi Hospital Association (MHA). Firmly believing that hospital campuses are no place for health-damaging tobacco, MHA is partnering with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi and Information & Quality Healthcare to promote totally tobacco-free campuses across the state.
“The primary mission of all healthcare organizations is to protect the health of those in our communities while promoting and supporting a community culture of healthier living,” said Sam W. Cameron, president of MHA. “That is why I am pleased to announce a new statewide health initiative, Tobacco Free Mississippi. Hospital campuses across Mississippi have joined together in an effort to become tobacco free.”
He notes that tobacco is the cause of death for more than 4,700 Mississippians every year and is the root cause of many illnesses and lost productivity. Tobacco use accounts for more than $719 million in medical expenditures each year.
“Tobacco use in and around hospitals poses health and safety risks for patients, employees and visitors,” he said. “Hospitals, for the most part, have been tobacco free for many years. This new initiative would extend tobacco-free status to the entire hospital campus, including adjoining and hospital-owned buildings and parking lots. The ban will apply to all patients, visitors, medical staff members, vendors and employees.”
Dr. James McIlwain, president of Information & Quality Healthcare, says his organization had one of the first smoking cessation help lines in the country. It has master-level counselors and provide this service free to businesses.
“We have a real good track record,” he said. “Hospitals provide healthcare, and we know what influence smoking has on health, so it’s appropriate that hospitals go smoke free. We want to help make that happen.”
The partners believe the negative impact of tobacco and second-hand exposure will continue to cause health consequences for the citizens of Mississippi.
“A recent report from the U.S. Surgeon General concluded that even a small exposure to second-hand smoke is harmful and that ventilation or separating smokers from non-smokers does not provide enough protection,” Cameron said.
He points out that hospitals are on different timelines and have different start dates. Some are not participating at this time but are exploring the possibility of future participation.
“Some hospital campuses have already been tobacco free for many years,” he said. “For a list of the latest Mississippi hospitals participating in this voluntary effort, visit www.tobaccofreems.com.”
MHA will also keep a running tab on the Web site of the cities, businesses and employers who have chosen to go tobacco free.
“Tobacco-free environments are an important step to improving the health and safety of all Mississippians, and we believe hospital campuses play an important role in addressing the dangers of tobacco,” Cameron said. “Participating Mississippi hospitals are proud to be leading this initiative in our communities to demonstrate our commitment to a healthier Mississippi.”
Hospitals participating in the initiative are not asking employees to stop using tobacco, but are requiring them to refrain from tobacco use during work hours. These hospitals are developing free programs for employees who choose to quit using tobacco products, including nicotine replacement products.
A wealth of materials is available online from the initiative’s tool kit. Those include a timeline, communication plan, talking points, model tobacco-free policy, sample employee memo, sample letter to send to adjacent properties, sample letter to the community, sample letter to the editor, sample newsletter article and sample press release.
Others include a tobacco-free logo in jpeg format, letter-size and tabloid-size tobacco-free posters, an outside pole banner, pledge card and table top tent.
In addition to hospitals, the following cities in Mississippi have passed no-smoking ordinances: Starkville, Tupelo, Oxford, Hattiesburg and Mantachie. Others considering similar bans are Corinth, Pontotoc, Meridian and Ridgeland.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.