Smoking ban spreads to hospital

Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Warren Weatherford of Clinton, Ky., smoked a cigarette outside Southeast Missouri Hospital while he worried about his wife, who was hospitalized from a fall that injured her head and broke her wrist. Starting Sept. 1, Southeast Missouri Hospital will ban smoking anywhere on hospital grounds. (Diane L. Wilson)

Last week Southeast Missouri Hospital announced that beginning Sept. 1 its entire campus will be smoke- and tobacco-free. Joining in this move are some of the largest health-care providers in the state, including University of Missouri Health Care, Barnes, Jewish and Children's Hospitals in St. Louis.

This brings to an end a 13-year period when smoking was allowed only in designated zones outside hospital buildings. Once the ban takes effect, all patients, visitors and employees will be required to exit property owned or rented by Southeast if desiring to smoke.

The move, said hospital administrators, is part of a national trend toward banning smoking in hospitals, hotels, restaurants and even the public places of entire municipalities.

The response to the hospital's move could determine whether the Southeast Missouri region takes further steps toward restricting smoking.

The auxiliary managing the hospital snack bar stopped selling smoking product in the early 1980s, said. Southeast president and CEO James Wente. In 1993 the hospital banned smoking except in selected outdoor areas. "Those changes met the needs during those periods of time," Wente said, "but now the needs have changed."

The feedback so far from staff and patients has been overwhelmingly supportive of the move, he said. He said no additional staff will be required to enforce the changeover, and the hospital will continue to offer classes in quitting smoking and nicotine patches for patients struggling to quit.

Wente does not anticipate losing patients due to the more restrictive policy. "If people do choose to go somewhere else it will be a short-term situation," he said. "I believe that given the passage of time all hospitals are going to adopt these policies."

But a visit to the hospital's smoking areas Thursday elicited hostility towards the move. "I think it stinks. and it's an infringement on people's rights," said Charles Childers. The 65-year-old Illinoisan was enjoying a cigarette but said he rarely smokes.

"I've worked in places -- chemical plants and refineries -- that put the most noxious gasses into the air, so much it's horrendous ," he said. "… And they're out here harassing smokers for doing this."

Others said they use smoking as a sort of therapy. Joyce Radin, 50, of Bernie, Mo., was on a smoke break after visiting a brother-in-law who is battling cancer and recovering from a heart attack.

"It's stressful to be here in the first place, and this calms my nerves," she said. "I say leave us alone. We aren't hurting anyone."

Some predicted the policy will backfire and trigger an exodus of patients. "I don't think it will work. If I had the choice, I probably wouldn't come to a hospital where I couldn't smoke," said smoker LaDonna Cavaness of Cape Girardeau. "Outside smoking areas are good enough, and making people leave the premises is a little extreme."

But nonsmokers had little sympathy for that point of view.

Evelyn Seabaugh, 77, said her husband is in remission from lung cancer, which she believes was caused by second-hand smoke. She says she "detests smoking" and will feel more comfortable on a smoke-free campus.

"I came here last Thursday for CAT scans, and people were out in front smoking. I went all the way to the far door and I could still smell the smoke," she said. " ... It's just an awful thing when you're walking into a hospital," she said.

Saint Francis Medical Center has convened a committee to evaluate its smoking policy and is considering a move similar to that of Southeast. Jeannie Fadler, vice president of patient care services, insisted gaining or losing patients will not enter into the decision.

"We don't believe that weighs in when patients are deciding which facility to choose for health care," said Fadler.

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