Gain for anti-smoking movement: No puffs allowed in private vehicles

Saturday, May 10, 2008

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Some hospitals have banned smoking inside a person's own vehicle if it's on hospital property, a step viewed as logical by the anti-smoking movement but repugnant to its critics.

"Many of us see this as the beginning -- and easiest part -- of a growing encroachment of government into people's private lives," said George Koodray, New Jersey coordinator for the Citizens Freedom Alliance.

While a handful of states ban smoking in cars if there are minors inside, the move by hospitals to prohibit any puffs behind the wheel represents new territory for those seeking a smoke-free environment.

The ban is part of the more widely recognized effort by hospitals to prohibit lighting up inside or outside the building, out of public health concerns. The American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation in Berkeley, Calif., counts more than 1,200 with campuswide bans.

No exact count is kept on which hospitals extend the ban to inside a car or truck, but an Associated Press check of hospitals in Alabama and elsewhere found that a number do.

Extending the ban inside a personal vehicle apparently was done without fanfare.

Policies vary

Roger Swafford of Forces Alabama, a smoker's rights group, said the ban demonstrates the hospital's complete lack of concern for their patients.

"Visitors that are smokers and willing to adhere to the hospital policy will likely shorten visits," Swafford said. "Hospitals should have a designated area for visitors and staff members who choose to use a legal product."

There's no such prohibition on smoking in cars on campus at Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria, Ore., according to hospital spokeswoman Kendra Gohl.

"In Oregon, a car is private property and we do not have the ability to enforce that even if it was allowed," Gohl said.

Some of the hospitals aren't taking any aggressive, get-tough enforcement of the ban on smoking in personal vehicles.

If someone chooses to smoke in their car at Providence Hospital in Mobile, they would be asked to extinguish the cigarette or leave the campus, according to Michael King, director of planning and marketing at the Mobile medical center.

"This would be especially likely to happen if they are parked close to a walkway or entrance and their smoke is affecting others," King said.

Robert Pritchard of Maryville, Tenn., the Southeast regional director for Citizens Freedom Alliance, another smoker's rights group, said citizens need to stand up for their rights.

"When some people complain and get the government involved, and start telling me what to do in my house or my car, then they have gone too far," Pritchard said. "Now if they wanted to start making payments for me, then I would consider going outside."

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