No-smoking policy will deter people from seeking help

New York became the first state in the country to require all state-run addiction treatment centers to help their patients quit smoking. The plan, which went into effect last week, requires treatment centers to help patients quit smoking by offering nicotine replacement therapy, including nicotine gum and patches, to all smokers. For those lacking health insurance, the nicotine replacement therapy will be free of charge.

The treatment centers also will be required to be smoke-free. Officials estimate the new law will impact up to 250,000 patients. Approximately 92 percent of those in alcohol and other drug treatment programs are cigarette smokers, according to estimates.

As someone who dedicates my life to advocating for treatment for those struggling with addiction and as someone who is personally addicted to cigarettes, I have mixed feelings about the new rule. I applaud the effort to help people quit smoking, but am worried that the smoking ban may deter some smokers who are hoping to quit other addictions from seeking help.

Helping smokers kick the habit will save lives and should be applauded. More than 400,000 people die prematurely from cigarettes — more than all other legal and illegal drugs combined.

It is important that public health officials and treatment providers acknowledge that cigarettes — a legal drug — can cause as many health problems as the more demonized illicit drugs. Having a proactive strategy to help people quit is a positive initiative that should be supported.

The second piece of the new law is more problematic. Prohibiting smoking at the treatment centers may sound like a worthwhile public health objective, but it is clear that this policy will discourage some people from seeking treatment. Some people may be seeking treatment for drugs like alcohol, heroin or cocaine, but they may not be ready to quit smoking.

Do we really want to set up barriers and conditions for people that keep them from seeking treatment? Not everyone can or wants to abstain from all drugs all at once. If someone wants to quit heroin, but is not ready to quit cigarettes, we should not discourage them from getting help.

Much of the campaign to help people quit cigarettes is positive and lifesaving. It is smart, cost-effective and humane to offer people free assistance and tools for quitting the harmful habit.

But let’s remove the smoking ban at the treatment centers. We need open doors that encourage people to get help for their problems, and not establish inflexible rules that drive people away from life-saving programs.

While some may desire a more perfect world where people quit all drugs at the same time and never relapse, the reality is that some may need to quit different drugs at different stages and relapse is a common experience. Let’s help people where they are at and not let perfect be the enemy of good.
source: The Buffalo News,



  1. KuanWei said,

    I am glad to see that there is more help out there to help people deal with addictions such as smoking.

    'Let’s help people where they are at and not let perfect be the enemy of good. '
    Wow, this line is really meaningful.

    on July 29, 2008 at 9:38 PM

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