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Building a smoke-free world

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2015 - Spring


While he was a student in medical school, Lakshmi Narasimha Murthy, M.D., smoked cigarettes. He continued this habit when he began practicing medicine‒first in the United Kingdom, then Canada, and finally in Miami, where he and his wife started a practice in family medicine and raised their son and daughter. As his precocious children grew up, the doctor found he could not smoke in peace. “We badgered our father like you wouldn’t believe,” said Vivek H. Murthy, M.D. ’03, M.B.A. ’03, the nation’s 19th surgeon general, during a panel discussion at Gateway Community College on September 17. About 200 students, faculty, and the public gathered to hear Murthy speak on anti-smoking laws and policy.

Murthy’s father gently humored his children because he knew in his heart his children were right, the Yale alum said. One afternoon at a community picnic, Murthy recalled, two youngsters approached the elder Murthy and cut his burning cigarette in half with scissors. “That was the last time I saw my father smoke,” Murthy said.

Murthy praised Gateway for encouraging its students to avoid smoking while they are on campus. In 2014, Gateway became the first state college in Connecticut to be recognized as “smoke-free” (no smoking allowed) by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Gateway is one of about 1,500 campuses in the United States that are smoke-free, Murthy said. That Gateway passed a smoke-free policy in the first place is a reason for celebration, said Jewel Mullen, M.D., M.P.H. ’96, M.P.A., Connecticut’s commissioner of public health, who also spoke on the panel. “Raise your hand if you know someone who has stopped smoking more than once,” she said. Nearly all hands in the audience went up.

With his father as an example, Murthy explained that knowledge is not always enough. Smokers need tools like medication or cessation programs to quit. The public itself also has a role to play, Murthy said. “We have to change the mindsets of people around addiction in helping them understand that addiction is not a moral failing,” he said. Smoking, like any chronic illness, needs to be treated with attention, resources and compassion, Murthy said.