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Pittsburgh Mercy Health System Adopts Tobacco-Free Work Shifts

Pittsburgh’s Mercy Health System (PMHS) is the latest healthcare organization to expand its no-smoking policy by implementing tobacco-free work shifts.

Starting today, PMHS employees, volunteers and visitors are prohibited from smoking on property owned or rented by the nonprofit.

“The buildings have already been smoke free, but now the grounds are going to be smoke and tobacco-free,” Mark Rogalsky, manager of prevention services, said. “And also, we’re instituting a smoke-free work shift policy, so they will be unable to smoke during their work shift.”

That means no walking across the street for a quick smoke.

But establishing a policy and enforcing one are two different things. According to spokeswoman Linda Ross, employees are being held to the honor system, because administartors realize anyone could leave the grounds and use tobacco during their break.

Cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, snus, snuff and pipes are among the products banned, along with e-cigarettes.

“E-cigarettes are not FDA approved,” Rogalsky said. “Increasingly we’re finding that they have just as many chemicals in them, not as many as cigarettes do, but there’s quite a few.”

To help facilitate a smooth transition, PMHS employees were informed of the new policies five months ago.

Rogalsky said the new policy isn’t forcing anyone to quit using tobacco, though it does encourage them to stop.

“A lot of it has to do with the secondhand as well as the thirdhand smoke, which is toxic residue, and people started to understand and get a better idea that no one was being forced to quit,” he said.

For those interested in kicking the habit, PMHS is offering free one-on-one, peer and group counseling sessions, as well as health coaching from cessation specialists and access to a 24-hour support hotline. The nonprofit is also supplying FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapies, including patches, gum, nasal sprays, inhalers, lozenges and non-nicotine tablets.

UPMC facilities adopted a similar policy last year.