Nov. 1 marked the one-year anniversary of Tobacco-Free Together, our initiative to create tobacco-free campuses at UF&Shands in Gainesville. I had the pleasure of hosting an event at the Health Science Center’s Founder’s Gallery to recognize our progress, and we were honored to be joined by Steven Pokorny, Ph.D., Alachua County Health Department director of health promotion, and Thomas Harrington, Tobacco Free Alachua vice chair, as well as many faculty and staff who played an important role in our Tobacco-Free Together program. Dr. Pokorny and Mr. Harrington awarded us with plaques to recognize our commitment to supporting a healthy community, which we will hang prominently at Shands at UF and the UF Health Science Center.
Our colleagues at Shands Jacksonville and the UF Health Science Center–Jacksonville have been well ahead of the curve, having made their campuses completely tobacco-free in the fall of 2008 as part of a citywide effort. Despite the well-known dangers of tobacco use, tobacco dependence remains the most preventable cause of disease, disability and death in the United States. Tobacco use is responsible for nearly one in five deaths each year. First- and second-hand cigarette smoke alone accounts for 30,000 deaths in Florida annually.
Every day our UF&Shands medical teams in Jacksonville and Gainesville care for patients with cancer, heart disease, lung disease and other conditions caused by or complicated by tobacco use. Like other academic health centers, we focus on the treatment of disease, recognizing that prevention, if possible, contributes to personal and public health in a more fundamental way. For decades, our patients have been counseled about the health consequences associated with tobacco use and dependence, and our clinical, teaching and research areas have long been smoke-free. We have unceasingly discouraged tobacco use at every opportunity. We know that combining tobacco cessation counseling with cessation medication significantly increases a person’s chances of quitting. When a physician intervenes, abstinence rates can double.
These efforts will, of course, continue. But two years ago in Jacksonville and one year ago in Gainesville, we decided that we needed to do more. We made a commitment that all parts of our campuses in both communities will be completely tobacco-free.
And in keeping with our efforts to promote good health more broadly, we worked with the main campus of the University of Florida, which went tobacco-free on July 1, 2010.
The Tobacco-Free Together program in Gainesville was launched to coincide with the Nov. 1, 2009, opening of Shands Cancer Hospital at UF. We are extremely proud of this hospital, which combines state-of-the-art treatment with a patient-friendly and environmentally responsible environment (the first hospital in the Southeast to be awarded gold LEED certification). Shands Cancer Hospital at UF is also a visual symbol of our commitment to prevent, treat and one day eradicate cancer.
Going Tobacco-Free Together was no small task. It required a great deal of effort from many people. At both Gainesville and Jacksonville, Shands Occupational Health Services has offered smoking-cessation classes and resources as benefits to Shands employees, including support groups, individual support through the Employee Assistance Program, and prescription medication for those who need it.
Likewise, the College of Medicine is working with the University of Florida AHEC (Area Health Education Center) Program in partnership with Tobacco-Free Florida and the Florida Department of Health. The AHEC program provides valuable smoking cessation services in partnership with several outstanding campus organizations. Also, because AHEC is a statewide organization that offers these same types of cessation services throughout Florida, we are able to help not only those who attend the university or work here, but also Florida residents who visit our campuses. For those who work at the Health Science Center, or patients and their family members who live locally, AHEC partners with the UF Department of Community Health and Family Medicine to provide group or individual cessation counseling along with nicotine-replacement therapy.
We are grateful for the cooperation and support of the entire UF&Shands community across both Jacksonville and Gainesville in implementing the new policies and guidelines fostered by Tobacco-Free Together. We are not 100 percent of the way there, and I encourage all of you to keep the momentum going. We want to continue to raise awareness and reinforce these policies for our patients, visitors, faculty, staff, students and volunteers.
A year ago, I said that we needed to join together for a healthier tomorrow. The work is not over although we’ve come very far. I am extremely pleased with our progress, and I thank you all for your commitment to remaining Tobacco-Free Together.
David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D.
Senior Vice President, Health Affairs
President, UF&Shands Health System