NEW ORLEANS -- Ochsner Health System's outgoing CEO is apologizing for making what some are now calling racially insensitive remarks about smoking.
The comments appeared in HealthLeaders Media, a national business publication.
Dr. Patrick Quinlan was interviewed for the first anniversary of the hospital group becoming a tobacco-free workplace.
The article quoted Quinlan as saying, "None of my friends smoke, but studies clearly show that the poorer you are the more you smoke. The blacker you are the more you smoke."
"It's unfortunate that one sentence was taken to mean something that it didn't, but the facts behind them are true," said Quinlan.
Quinlan says what he meant to say is that the tobacco industry has targeted groups successfully to get them addicted and stay addicted to tobacco and that people who are most disadvantaged suffer disproportionately from smoking.
He regrets his choice of words in the magazine article.
"People are very sensitive," said Quinlan. "It's complicated and it's easy to be reactive. It's my job not to trigger people's reactions, but to get them to stay open and think. In that case, I failed."
A number of readers identifying themselves as Ochsner employees had this to say about Quinlan's remarks:
One said, "While I understand the the point he was trying to make, he did a poor job of it."
Another wrote, "It was very upsetting and disheartening to me as an African American employee to have read that statement."
One Quinlan supporter wrote, "Quinlan's message is not of racism or class distinction, if that's all you see then you missed the point."
"We have choices," said Quinlan. "We can have a long happy life or we can just keep on what we're doing and just not call the question because we're sliding down a path where there is less and less to treat sicker and sicker people."
Some now say that Quinlan's remarks sped up his exit as CEO. Quinlan says not true.
"That's been in the works for about 18-months," he said.
Quinlan apologized to his employees. He plans to continue calling attention to the hazards of smoking.
"We need to have a call to arms, particularly today when we know it is the number one, leading cause of death that is entirely avoidable," said Quinlan.
Quinlan is expected to officially step down as Ochsner CEO at the end of August.
His longtime second-in-command Warner Thomas takes over Sept. 1.