News | Published August 15, 2012

Mount Nittany Health’s tobacco free initiative to greatly benefit community

If you were given the chance, would you do just one thing that could greatly lower your risk of disease and death?

It is assumed that most people would instantly answer "yes" to the above question, but nearly 30 percent of Americans practice a habit that is widely known to cause disease and death. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, tobacco is the leading cause of disease and death in the United States, resulting in more than 5 million deaths per year. In addition, for every smoker who dies from a smoking-attributable disease, another 20 live with a serious smoking-related disease - making tobacco use the single most preventable cause of disease and death.

To help ensure a safe, clean and healthy environment for our employees, patients and visitors, all Mount Nittany Health facilities will become tobacco free effective September 4, 2012.

The tobacco free initiative does not require people to quit all tobacco use, but enforces a policy that does not permit the use of tobacco, including chewing tobacco, on the inside or outside of any Mount Nittany Health properties.

"Mount Nittany Health's decision to go tobacco free is a tangible expression of our ongoing commitment to healthy living," says Jeffrey Ratner, MD, senior vice president of medical affairs at Mount Nittany Health. "Prohibiting tobacco use provides responsible protection for our patients and guests. In addition, completely removing tobacco from our facilities will help those who are trying to quit by eliminating triggers for tobacco usage."

Mount Nittany Health is joining organizations both local and nationwide (including New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York City; University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh; and San Francisco General Hospital, San Francisco) that have implemented a tobacco free policy on their properties. Additionally, "There are a large number of effects that are ultimately caused by tobacco use - whether through personal use or secondhand smoke," notes James Gerardo, MD, PhD, interventional cardiologist, Mount Nittany Physician Group. "Tobacco products can increase the risk of developing many health concerns, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, bronchitis, cataracts, bone disease, and many types of cancers such as cancer of the lung, throat, mouth, nasal cavity, esophagus, stomach, pancreas and kidney."

Smoking tobacco can greatly increase the risk of developing the leading cause of death in the United States - coronary heart disease.

"The chemicals in tobacco smoke can harm blood cells as well as damage the function of blood vessels," says Al Zoda, MD, FACC, cardiology, Mount Nittany Physician Group. "This can cause the buildup of plaque, leading the arteries to harden and narrow over time."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking can increase the risk of coronary heart disease by two to four times over the rate for nonsmokers.

The odds are higher for cancer, too; a smoker's risk of developing the disease can be two to 10 times greater (depending on how much and how long the person smoked) than it is for someone who never smoked.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States for both men and women. According to the CDC, cigarette smoke leads to about 90 percent of the lung cancers seen in the United States.

"Each cigarette a person smokes can increase their risk of lung cancer, so occasional smokers are still at risk," explains Dr. Ratner.

Tobacco use causes many other forms of cancer, including head and neck cancers.

"There is no doubt that the use of tobacco is the biggest risk factor for getting head and neck cancers, which include a range of malignant tumors that can appear in or around the throat, larynx, nose, sinuses and mouth," says James Freije, MD, MPH, FACS, otolaryngology, Mount Nittany Physician Group.

In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, about 80 percent of patients with oral cancers use tobacco.

Not only does smoking tobacco cause cancer, but chewing tobacco can as well.

"Smokeless tobacco use is just as harmful as smoking in terms of increasing the risk of oral cancer and many other diseases," notes Dr. Freije. "The carcinogens in both products are the same."

Nonsmokers are also affected by tobacco use, which is why Mount Nittany Health's tobacco free initiative will help encourage an overall healthier environment for the community.

"Smoking not only affects the person smoking, but harms everyone who is exposed to the smoke," states Dr. Zoda. "Secondhand smoke is associated with the development of disease in adults, including heart disease. Additionally, there are more than 250 chemicals found in secondhand smoke, and at least 69 of those chemicals are known to cause cancer."

For more information on Mount Nittany Health's tobacco-free initiative, along with tips on becoming tobacco free, visit