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New Policy Bans Tobacco Use at Navy Health Clinics

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11/23/2009
By Lance Cpl. Rashaun X. James, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point

Beginning Jan. 1, military and civilian personnel will no longer be authorized to use tobacco products of any form at Cherry Point's Naval Health Clinic.

The tobacco use ban stems from a policy signed by the surgeon general of the Navy, Vice Adm. Adam M. Robinson Jr., encouraging the ban of tobacco use on naval hospital campuses, said Lt. j.g. Salvatore Carapazza, a spokesman for the naval clinic here. The decision to convert Naval Health Clinic Cherry Point to a tobacco-free facility was made by the health clinic's commanding officer, Capt. John Burgess.

"Going tobacco free could be fraught with emotion and anxiety for some," Burgess said. "Navy medicine personnel should be setting the example for all of their shipmates by maintaining healthy and fit behaviors. Being tobacco free is one of them."

The new policy applies to all civilians and military personnel and states that smoking will not be permitted anywhere on the premises including parking lots, inside vehicles and in wooded areas surrounding the clinic.

"All existing ash cans will be removed and any visitors or patients on clinic grounds will also be expected to adhere to the policy," Carapazza said. "The policy's purpose is to provide a safe and healthy environment for the naval health clinic's staff, visitors and volunteers."

Carapazza said the new policy is intended to eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke, promote smoking cessation programs, protect the physical property of the facility, and help reduce health costs, social costs, and liability associated with tobacco use.

"We are charged with taking care of our beneficiaries," Burgess said. "Allowing smoking on the compound is in contradiction to our mission. Hopefully this will inspire my staff and our beneficiaries that use tobacco to stop."

While the new tobacco use policy stands to promote the overall health and wellness of the clinic's staff and patrons, officials said some growing pains could arise from its implementation.

"Staff who have been used to smoking during working hours may initially have a difficult time getting through the workday," Carapazza said.

However, Burgess said it's important to note that the purpose behind the policy is not to alienate tobacco users.

"I'm not trying to single-out smokers," Burgess said. "The only thing I have issue with is the impact of their habit on them and those around them. We want to help people kick this habit."

Burgess stressed that even the smell of tobacco smoke can be harmful to some health clinic personnel and beneficiaries.

"Particulate matter from cigarette smoke in clothing can be an irritant to people with sensitive or reactive airways," Burgess said. "As a physician, I have been very anti-tobacco because I have seen the toll it takes on countless patients."

With the Navy surgeon general challenging Navy medicine commanders to make the leap to tobacco-free facilities, Burgess said he sees an opportunity to safeguard his staff and beneficiaries against the threats of tobacco use.

"We were not the first health facility in the region to go tobacco-free, but I felt it was important that we were not the last," Burgess said. "We need everyone as fit and healthy as possible to defend the nation."

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