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Smoke-free medical district becomes reality March 1

By Dawn Brazell | Public Relations | Feb. 25, 2013

map of smoke free medical districtMUSC smoke-free boundaries expand to include medical district

Never say student voices fail to matter.

As MUSC approaches the first anniversary of the campus being a tobacco-free environment March 1, there are other reasons to celebrate.

Charleston City Council passed an ordinance January 8 creating a Smoke-Free Medical District around MUSC and Roper Hospital. The ban takes effect March 1 and prohibits smoking on certain streets and sidewalks within and abutting MUSC and Roper Hospital grounds. Amendments to the tobacco-free MUSC campus policy also prohibit the use of tobacco products by staff on private properties adjacent to the Medical District without explicit approval from the property owner.

It has been a long journey getting to this point.

Carol Brown, PharmD, remembers the issue becoming a hot topic within MUSC’s Student Government Association in 2009. Students felt smoking should not be permitted on the grounds and were alarmed when smoking huts were placed on campus. When Brown became SGA president in 2011, she made turning MUSC into a smoke-free campus her top priority. In large part, because of the students’ actions, the campus became tobacco free March 1, 2012.

“It was inspiring seeing what kind of impact students can actually have. The Board of Trustees were so receptive to us that it surprised me. Of course, I also enjoyed the removal of the smoking huts. Having a smoke-free campus made me proud to be a student here and now makes me proud to be an employee here.”

She’s grateful for the city’s support in the recent creation of the Medical District, which further strengthens the campus’ tobacco-free stance.

“I’m ecstatic. The clusters of smokers on the sidewalks have become a serious problem, and I am so happy the city is working with us to clear the air completely.”

Brown, who now is a clinical pharmacist at Hollings Cancer Center, encourages MUSC students to pay attention to what they feel strongly about and to find ways to take action even if at first they don’t get favorable responses. “Don’t get discouraged. I think that most students don’t have any idea how much their voices matter. As a student, I didn’t realize it until I became SGA President. I would highly encourage all students to become involved in their school’s extracurricular programs and represent their classmates as much as possible.”  

MUSC President Ray Greenberg, M.D., Ph.D., applauds the efforts of students and all those, including city of Charleston officials, who’ve have made the Smoke-Free Medical District a reality. Patients who seek medical treatment at MUSC include some people with very fragile health conditions, such as chronic impairments of lung, heart, and immune status, as well as pregnant women and premature infants. 

New signs are up on surrounding areas bordering campus to designate the expanded smoke-free district. 

“To expose these vulnerable populations to the hazards of environmental tobacco smoke is inconsistent with our mission as a healthcare provider. We were so pleased that our elected officials saw that this obligation was the paramount consideration in balancing the interests involved. We were very gratified by the strong support of Charleston City Council.  By voting to enact this ordinance, they endorsed our strong appeal to help protect the well-being of the patients who seek care at our facilities.”

Susan Johnson, Ph.D., director of the Office of Health Promotion who has played an influential role in getting the ordinance passed, said she felt relief at its passage. It provides the best solution to the sidestream smoke issue where patients were having to walk through clouds of smoke to get into various hospital entrances, she said.

“I think the most important difference will be that we will now be able to walk all through our campus and not have to hold our breath walking by a smoker. We have done so much work to make our campus a healthier, more attractive place to work and visit and the cigarette smoke was a glaring contradiction to our otherwise health-promoting campus.”

Also helpful were revisions to MUSC’s employee policy in January to include the smoke-free zones added by the city ordinance and the addition of wording that prohibits smoking on private property surrounding campus unless explicit permission by the property owner has been granted.

“What this really is addressing is the problem related to some smokers loitering on our neighboring businesses’ property, parking lots, driveways, etc. and even on some private residents’ properties. By adding this to our policy, it allows our public safety officers to have jurisdiction to enforce the policy with employees and contract workers.”

To support employees who would like to quit smoking, MUSC is bringing back its Pitch the Pack cessation program that was offered last year during the first six months of becoming a tobacco-free campus. This program provides a free, one-month supply of cessation medication (NRT or Prescription) to employees and students. For more information, visit Registration for the six-month program began Jan. 25.

Johnson asks that employees show their support for the new Medical District and policy changes by educating visitors and staff about the smoke-free areas. MUSC’s Department of Public Safety and Medical Center Safety and Security will provide enforcement of the ordinance as well as the tobacco-free campus policy for employees, focusing primarily on education and public awareness. Ticketing will be used only as a last resort, she said.

“We will be providing information cards and pocket ashtrays to give to violators. It is not our intention to ticket non-compliance but to inform with compassion. We also have coupons for a free stick of Nicorette gum that we can give to patients and visitors who may need some help in refraining from smoking while in the smoke-free zone.”

For more information, contact Johnson at 843-792-1245 or or visit the website at, which has a map of the smoke-free areas and a copy of MUSC’s revised policy.

“I think the new ordinance sends a message that the city of Charleston is committed to protecting the public health and wellbeing of our citizens, and in this case our most vulnerable citizens. I think it positions Charleston as well as Roper and MUSC as leaders in championing for health, for being progressive and creative in problem solving, and it makes Charleston an even more appealing place to live and work.”



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