Beginning in two weeks, employees, patients, visitors, physicians and volunteers will no longer be allowed to smoke on the premises of Harris Methodist Erath County Hospital.

The policy, which goes into effect Nov. 15, comes from Texas Health Resources (THR), and prohibits the use of tobacco products at all hospital and corporate facilities. Smoking and smoke-free tobacco will be banned at every property owned by THR and prohibits tobacco use in hospital buildings, parking lots and outdoor areas. It also applies to smoking in personal vehicles on hospital campuses.

“We realize this will not be an easy process for those who use tobacco and we are receptive to their concerns, said HMEC president Christopher Leu. “However, HMEC believes it is important to take a stand regarding this major health concern.

Cigarette smoking is the single most preventable cause of premature death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control. THR officials said the decision to prohibit smoking on all its properties demonstrates a commitment to improving the health of the communities they serve.

“By making its hospitals completely tobacco free, THR is addressing the number one health risk today, said Doug Hawthorne, CEO of THR. “As the leading health care provider in North Texas, THR has a responsibility to promote healthy living to all members of the community. We cannot convince others of the need to eliminate smoking without becoming a model ourselves. It is the right thing to do.

Cigarette smoke causes an estimated 438,000 premature deaths each year, according to the CDC. The Surgeon General announced in June that second-hand smoke causes 35,000-45,000 deaths annually from heart disease and another 3,000 deaths from lung cancer in nonsmokers. Nonsmokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke at home or at work increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25-30 percent and lung cancer by 20-30 percent.

THR offers tobacco cessation and treatment resources to employees and their families at no charge. Programs offered include Be Healthy THR and Quit for Life(tm), a program of Free and Clear, which has specialized in tobacco cessation for more than 20 years. Free and Clear offers trained professionals that assist employees in developing a personalized quitting plan.

The effective date of THR's new policy marks the 30th anniversary of the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout.

SARA VANDEN BERGE is Managing Editor of the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at 254-968-2379, ext. 240.