Miller School goes smokeless

    Photo Illustration by Brittney Bomnin
    Photo Illustration by Brittney Bomnin
    Photo Illustration by Brittney Bomnin

    The University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine is joining the tobacco-free trend that is sweeping the nation, with plans to institute a campus-wide ban on smoking early next year.

    Smoking is already forbidden inside buildings around the 153-acre UM/Jackson Memorial Medical Center complex but soon it will be prohibited outside as well. The ban will include parking lots and garages, benches and picnic tables and even parked cars.

    “As a recognized health institution, [we] should project that image,” said Dr. Richard Thurer, chairman of the smoke-free coordinating committee. He says the new policy is a natural extension of the school’s mission: to promote healthy behavior.

    “The major goal is to get smokers into smoking cessation programs,” said Thurer, senior associate dean of faculty affairs at the medical school.

    According to the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation, approximately 365 college campuses around the country have already gone smoke-free. The University of Florida in Gainesville plans to go entirely smoke-free next July.

    Third-year UM medical student Kimberly Ross is thrilled about the new policy.

    “I think it is a wonderful idea, especially at the medical school where we are learning about the importance of educating our patients, encouraging smoking cessation and helping them along this path to better health,” she said. “Of course there will be some opposition. Whenever there is a step in any direction, there is almost always resistance to that change.”

    Armando Solana, an employee in Jackson’s rehab department who has been smoking for 20 years, doesn’t like the new policy. While he recognizes the health benefits, he feels the policy is impinging on his rights.

    “It’s taking away something personal from people,” he said. “It [smoking] is part of the freedom of our country.”

    Miller School dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt knows the policy won’t please everyone.

    “It’s a move that might not make everyone happy, but it will help everybody,” Goldschmidt said. “I’m not trying to give people a hard time. I’m trying to help them and provide them the opportunity to discontinue [smoking].”

    Miller School security officials will not be enforcing the policy, but rather a volunteer group of “smoke-free campus ambassadors” will implement the new initiative. Students and faculty members are currently being recruited. The smoke-free committee hopes to enlist approximately 100 ambassadors.

    “There’s not going to be any smoking police,” Thurer said. “Smokers won’t be forcibly arrested or removed.”

    Security could become involved, however, if policy violations become flagrant, habitual or aggressive.

    Once recruited, ambassadors will watch short role-playing films aimed at showing different ways to approach smokers and politely inform them of the policy. They will then hand the smoker a card explaining the policy, as well as indicating a hotline number they may call for advice on quitting.

    The films and other educational materials will soon be available to volunteers on a smoke-free Web site that is currently under construction.

    “We’re certainly not pioneers in this,” Thurer said.

    According to ANRF, approximately 1,802 U.S. hospitals, health care systems and clinics have already gone smoke-free. More than 60 Florida hospitals adopted a smoke-free policy according to the Florida Hospital Association, including Baptist Hospital of Miami.

    “[It was] incredibly difficult to get everyone on board,” Thurer said.

    He referred to it as a “major undertaking,” particularly due to the fact that UM is a private institution partnered with Jackson Memorial Hospital, a public hospital.

    Goldschmidt explained that the school did not initially have the support of Jackson, but under the leadership of its new president and CEO, Dr. Eneida Roldan, the two have come to an agreement.

    Kristin Goldthorpe of Stanford University’s School of Medicine understands the challenges Thurer and Goldschmidt face.

    Stanford’s medical school went smoke-free in September 2007. A year later, the two hospitals located on the medical school campus adopted a smoke-free policy. That policy is enforced by security officers who issue a verbal warning; if the smoking persists, the smokers’ superiors are notified. During the first month of going smoke-free, four violations were reported.

    “The majority of our faculty, staff and students are non-smokers, so the policy is supported and self-patrolled by this community,” said Goldthorpe, the project manager of Stanford’s smoke-free initiative.

    Would UM’s Coral Gables campus ever consider going smoke-free?

    “We will be exploring the feasibility of extending the smoke-free policy to the Coral Gables campus,” said Gilbert Arias, assistant vice president for student affairs.

    When asked how, Arias said he expects the university to form a committee to discuss the possibility. Given that the policy would involve the entire UM community, consultations with representatives from human resources will be imperative.

    In the meantime, UM’s medical school has grabbed the reins and plans to give smoke-free a try. An exact date for the roll-out of the policy is being discussed.

    Of the medical school’s 7,000 employees, Goldschmidt estimates that about 10 to 15 percent smoke. He expects the policy to reduce that number by “a couple percentage points.”

    “It will have a significant impact,” Thurer said.

    Smoking causes more than 400,000 premature deaths each year in the United States, reports the U.S. Centers for Disease Comtrol in Atlanta. Exposure to secondhand smoke can also cause lung cancer, nasal sinus cancer, respiratory tract infections and heart disease, studies show.

    “It is absolutely clear that smoking is bad for you,” Goldschmidt said.

    And for this reason, Thurer believes, “There is no reasonable reason to be opposed to [the policy].”

    Others disagree.

    “I think people should have the freedom to smoke,” said Lazaro Delgado, a nonsmoker and employee in the radiology department at Jackson. Delgado feels smokers should be allowed to smoke in an open outdoor area “where it doesn’t affect other people.”

    “Smoking is like a habit; they need it,” he said, adding that he knows of numerous co-workers, doctors, and patients who smoke.

    While Thurer knows the policy may encounter opposition initially, he is optimistic about acceptance in the long run.

    “I think there will obviously be some bumps in the road,” he said. “But they’ll [smokers] recognize it is the right thing to do.”

    Freddy Smilovich,  a patient at Jackson who was smoking outdoors on a recent day, thinks so too.

    “If I have to quit, I have to quit,”  he said.