UPMC Employees Find Support as They Quit Smoking

By: Cyndy McGrath and Krista Connelly

For more than 10 years, Dan Pitchford tried to stop his pack-a-day smoking habit that started during high school.

“I would buy a pack and smoke two or three, then toss that pack away,” said Pitchford. “I threw more full packs of Winston cigarettes over the Homestead High Level Bridge during those ‘stopping and starting’ days.”

Lately, Pitchford has had extra incentive to kick the habit.  The UPMC HC Pharmacy contract specialist also has access to a comprehensive, well-organized support system as he continues to maintain a smoke-free lifestyle.

On July 1, UPMC will join other major U.S. medical centers by expanding the 2007 Clean Air Policy and asking employees, physicians, volunteers, contractors and students to be smoke and tobacco free during their entire shifts.  153019838

“We’re committed to maintaining a healthy environment for employees, patients and our visitors,” said Greg Peaslee, UPMC executive vice president and chief human resources and administrative services officer.   “By reducing exposure to tobacco products, we can help the UPMC experience to be a positive one.”

Tobacco use is currently not permitted on any UPMC property. Starting July 1, the policy will be extended to prohibit tobacco use for the entire work shift or assignment, including paid and unpaid breaks.  Individuals also cannot smell of smoke during work.

“The health risks of smoking are well-documented,” said Marc Manley, M.D., vice president of population health management, UPMC Health Plan. “There is also evidence of danger from second-hand smoke, and even ‘third-hand’ smoke.  Residue from tobacco smoke can cling to skin, hair and clothing long after someone has finished smoking, and can be an irritant to others.”

UPMC announced the smoke-free shift policy in July 2013 to give ample time for individuals to access UPMC’s tobacco-cessation tools and resources.  The tools and resources include phone and online support, health coaching, nicotine replacement products, text tips for quitting, and LifeSolutions, UPMC’s employee assistance program.

Six months after their planned quit date, nearly 50 percent of participants who complete the Ready to Quit health coaching program report that they are tobacco free. Staff enrollments in the tobacco cessation program doubled after the Smoke- and Tobacco-free Shift policy was first announced last July.

“We have a broad array of highly effective resources and support services available.  LifeSolutions counselors can provide continuing smokers with strategies for working through their shifts without using tobacco. For those who want to quit or are struggling to stay quit, Health Plan health coaches have the knowledge and skills to significantly increase their chances of success,” said Timothy Cline, Ph.D., senior director, Clinical Training and Development, UPMC Health Plan, who specializes in behavioral approaches to smoking cessation.

UPMC has a long record of success helping employees achieve better health. Tobacco use prevalence among UPMC employees dropped from 18.1 percent in 2007 to 9.8 percent in 2013, while more than 20 percent of adults in Allegheny County continue to smoke cigarettes.

Jeanne Stepano, manager, Coding Compliance Group, has been smoke-free since October 31.  She credits her success in large part to support from the UPMC MyHealth Ready to Quit™ program.

“It helps that a lot of people are trying to quit,” Stepano said. “Years ago, there wasn’t this smoke-free movement so it made it much harder.”

Pitchford utilized the expertise of his personal UPMC physicians when he made the decision to quit.  He’s been smoke-free for 17 years.

“I started running to get healthy, and I continue to stay smoke free. I’m so grateful to be free of the nicotine addiction and torment that it caused in my life.”