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The freedom to choose your own health?

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I just finished reading Sean Dent’s excellent article When I think of Smoking: A Nurses’ Perspective.

It is a moving account of his experience with an end-stage COPD patient who had literally smoked herself to death. I have seen the same thing too many times, both in my work and in my own family.

Most of us have.

And it still astounds me the number of nurses and respiratory therapy personnel who light up at every opportunity! I have decided it is harder to stop SMOKING than it is to stop drinking, using drugs or just about anything else.

Perhaps it is because cigarettes and other tobacco products are not only a LEGAL substance, if one is old enough to buy and use them, but also very much a part of our national culture?

I am old enough to remember when (1970) the advertising of cigarettes was banned from television by Congress! (Actually, that was a question on “Jeopardy!” the other night.)

However, even though I have never smoked or lived with anyone who smoked, I believe in the freedom to choose what adults do in their private lives, and that includes the right to choose whether or not to smoke, drink, have sex or anything which does not infringe on the rights of others. And we all know by now that secondary smoke is more dangerous than that which is inhaled by the active smoker.

Sounds like a conflict, doesn’t it? Especially when one of the latest trends in hospital hiring policies is to forbid the use of legal tobacco products in any form, at any time, by an employee. This is happening right now even in parts of the country where tobacco is grown and sold at market to buyers from the product manufacturing companies.

Now, the only way to test for tobacco use is through hair analysis–an expensive and all-inclusive type of test. So what if YOU personally do not smoke but live with someone who does? Yes, Virginia, you will test “positive” for tobacco. And who knows what else is in your hair? The pain med you took last month after a root canal? The champagne you drank at your sister’s wedding? Any type of medications you have taken in the past few months, as well as your DNA?

I believe that adults have the right to choose whether or not to use legal substances responsibly on their own time. I believe that privately owned businesses such as restaurants have the right to ban smoking on their property. And of course, public institutions such as hospitals which receive federal tax dollars such as Medicare have no option under the Law.

If a hospital system forbids its employees to smoke on their own time, what’s next? No drinking of wine at dinner, only certain types of birth control may be used if you work in a Catholic hospital, no vehicles that emit hydrocarbons may park on the premises?

Sound outrageous? It SHOULD. Because it is happening right under our noses and we are allowing someone else to make what should be personal decisions for us, all for the privilege of working in their facility.

Just a little too much Big Brother for my taste.

 Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden (Phaedrus).

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Nurse Rene

Nurse Rene has been an RN since 1978; CCRN since 1989 and attained a BSN in 2010. She has worked in virtually every specialty from Neonatology to Neurosurgery and is a Member of Sigma Theta Tau International Nursing Honor Society with a particular interest in helping students and new grads develop to their full potential. She's been married for 33 years and has a keen interest in history and in current issues as nursing continues to develop as a Real Profession. When not spoiling the grandchildren, she enjoys sewing, cooking, kayaking, camping and travel. She likes all music which does not hurt her ears, watching NCIS, Leverage, Top Gear and Criminal Minds and reads books written by Clive Cussler, Miss Manners, Erma Bombeck and Tom Clancy. She enjoys collecting Quotations for use in her writings.

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5 Responses to The freedom to choose your own health?

  1. Sean Dent Scrubs Blogger

    Thank you for your kind words Rene.
    I’ve blogged about this hot topic before – I too share the same opposing feelings. Big brother is already too big, but I’m a lil tired of the second hand smoke.

    Hmm.. the quest continues.

    • Nurse Rene RN

      Indeed! And thank you for reviewing the post! I think that it is important that we review, and even agree to disagree at times, each others’ work. I welcome all views and comments, even those which opposed to mine, because that is what the Free Exchange of Ideas is all about!
      It is refreshing to be one among so many bright and literate thinking writers here! So many of the other blogs wind up being a ‘throwdown’ and get way off topic. Writing for Scrubs is my first foray into the realm of ‘professional writing’ and I am learning a LOT!
      All the best to you in your studies and work!

  2. NurseRae Student

    I think Rene has a point, but when it comes down to it, the questions should be asked, “does it impact patient care?” I don’t smoke, but have a lot of friends that do…and even if you are respectful enough to not smoke around others, the smell of cigarette smoke lingering on someone’s clothing can be enough to give me an instant headache. It is no different than other offensive odors…people who wear over-powering perfume/cologne, people who don’t believe in deodorant, and other personal choices that our patients smell. I think it is questionable for a hospital to require this of their employees, but at the same time, most of the places I have worked have a dress code that includes non-offensive odors, which would encompass the stench of cigarette smoke.

  3. link955 LPN

    When my employer pays me for the other 12 hours in the day, they can tell me how to behave on my free time. Smoking is already banned on hospital grounds; that’s enough. Ultimately the only person I am hurting is myself. I really don’t buy into the second-hand smoke thing; you’re getting more carcinogens from every passing SUV than you’re getting from me. I don’t think it’s really a health issue. It’s a control issue. We’re all going to die anyway. I’m just narrowing the number of things that will ultimately kill me. I’m not worried about it. I may die before you, but I will probably have more pleasant moments.

  4. laura00seven LPN

    People like to rag on smokers because we’re an easy target and we’re a minority. While smoke may be “offensive” to co-workers and patients and it is unhealthy, we have to do something as citizens to keep government out of our business. If we eliminate smoking, people will need something else to complain about. Perhaps obese nurses who also have a higher rate of call outs, or people who drink coffee because the smell may be offensive to some. We all have some sort of habit that makes us unhealthy, not exercising for 30 minutes a day, not getting enough rest, not eating our veggies or drinking enough water. All of which may affect work performance and lead to more call outs. People get offended too easily. Let the smokers smoke.