By the time I began practicing pulmonary medicine over 28 years ago, the official position of the U.S. Public Health Service was that the evidence pointed to a causal relationship between smoking and lung cancer. That was on June 12, 1957.
By 1964, Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General held cigarette smoking responsible for a 70 percent increase in the mortality rate of smokers over non-smokers.
The report also named smoking as the most important cause of chronic bronchitis and pointed to a correlation between smoking and emphysema, and smoking and coronary heart disease. It noted that smoking during pregnancy reduced the average weight of newborns.
Today, there is also a huge body of evidence that points to the deleterious effects of second-hand smoke.
While the debate continues on the issue of personal freedom and corporate responsibility, Mount Nittany Health System has developed a tobacco-free zone policy that will be implemented beginning Sept. 4, 2012.
As a physician, I hope that while we are protecting our patients and employees from the effects of second-hand smoke through this policy, we are also providing an impetus for people to quit smoking.
Everyone eventually stops smoking; it's a matter of when, and also whether a person will do it on his or her own terms, or through the necessity brought on by disease.
I always try to be understanding and encouraging to my patients who are trying to quit smoking. Since it is a chemical addiction, it presents a formidable challenge. But help is available through medications and smoking cessation programs. Exercise goes a long way toward lowering the anxiety associated with withdrawal.
In the late 1980's, I was involved - along with a group of community members and sponsors - in supporting a campaign that addressed the issue of teenage smoking. In the form of a documentary, a filmmaker interviewed young people.
A young basketball star from Penn State, John Amechi, visited area high schools and used the film to engender a vibrant and engaged discussion amongst the students probing their reasons for starting and continuing smoking rather than simply focusing on the long-term repercussions.
It was a great success. Or was it? Over twenty years later, teenagers are still our most vulnerable group. But perhaps they always will be. As adults, we can only lead by example.
That's how it is at Mount Nittany. We are transitioning into a facility, including all of our Physician Group offices, that can lead the way in our community. We desire to be the best possible example of health and well being, and we can do that, in part, by being a tobacco-free zone.
Jeffrey A. Ratner, MD, is a pulmonologist and senior vice president of medical affairs at Mount Nittany Medical Center.