Tobacco use continues to remain the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking kills more than 480,000 Americans each year, with more than 41,000 of those deaths from exposure to secondhand smoke. In addition, smoke-related illness in the United States costs more than $300 billion a year, including nearly $170 billion in direct medical care for adults and $156 billion in lost productivity.
“Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.” – Mark Twain
Pueblo was hit especially hard by tobacco use. Nearly 1 in 4 Pueblo County adults smoked, while an average of only 17% of Colorado adults smoked. But with a smoke-free ordinance passed by City Council, and the incredible work done by partners in the community, massive progress has been made.
Our goal as a community was to reduce Pueblo County’s smoking rate to the state average; that would have improved Pueblo by six places in Colorado’s County Health Rankings Health Behavior Statistics. Between 2010-2016, the adult smoking rate in Pueblo County decreased from 24% to 16%. Today, we as a community can say we reached our goal: the Colorado state average is also 16%.
Even though great progress has been made, there is still a significant amount of work to be done. St. Mary-Corwin Hospital is one of our partners in the community leading the charge. Their policy restricts St. Mary-Corwin patients, visitors, employees, physicians, volunteers, vendors, and other visitors to the hospital campus from smoking on or in front of the hospital. They are committed to providing a healthy environment. This includes allowing hospital patients, visitors, physicians, employees, volunteers, and vendors to enter and leave the hospital campus without encountering secondhand smoke.
This decision is supported by numerous studies that suggest secondhand smoke may be an underrecognized cause of heart attack deaths in this country. Smoking bans are designed not only to cut smoking rates but also to reduce secondhand tobacco smoke. It is a widely recognized cause of lung cancer, but its effect on heart disease can be more immediate.
St. Mary-Corwin also made the decision to not hire tobacco users. This specific policy took their commitment to being a smoke-free campus to the next level and aligns with precedents set by other leading health care systems. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but it’s a decision that contributes to the overall good of Pueblo County; a decision for progress. We as a community will continue to have to make tough decisions, but progress must remain the priority. There’s a lot of work to be done, but there’s a collective belief that Pueblo is up to the challenge.