Hospitals set stricter smoke-free policies

The rules will prohibit employees from smelling of smoke.
Sunday, April 30, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:51 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

The tension in Carol Bell’s face is unmistakable. But when she presses her lips to her cigarette and inhales just a few feet from the entrance of Boone Hospital Center, her anxiety seems to disappear.

Ask her about the tobacco-free policy that the hospital and University of Missouri Health Care Center plan to implement in a few months, however, and the tension in her face comes right back.

“I pay tax dollars just like any nonsmoker and to tell me I can’t smoke in a designated area outside or even in my own vehicle while on hospital property just isn’t right,” said Bell, a visitor to the hospital.

UM Health Care and Boone Hospital Center announced plans Friday to make all of their hospital campuses smoke-free for employees, patients and visitors starting Sept. 1.

The policy will restrict tobacco products within all hospital buildings, parking lots and personal vehicles parked on the premises and all owned or leased hospital property. Hospital employees will be prohibited from using tobacco products during working hours as well. In addition, UM Health Care employees will be prevented from even smelling of smoke at work.

“We don’t want employees coming to work smelling like smoke because many patients have respiratory illnesses or are trying to quit smoking,” said Laura Schopp, the Wellness Program manager for the UM System and UM Health Care.

Some visitors to Columbia’s hospitals Saturday said they support the ban.

“I think it’s great because if you’re in a medical atmosphere, you should be somewhere with clean air,” said Hillary Minks of St. Joseph.

Others say the policy discriminates against smokers. Stephen Parker, of Ashland, quit smoking about 10 years ago and was standing with Bell and a group of hospital visitors discussing the ban Saturday afternoon.

“I think they’re pushing it a bit,” he said. “Inside I can see and even a certain distance from the door, I understand. But smokers have some rights, too.”

Schopp said the smoking shelters that employees and patients use now will be replaced with a patio or barbecue area would be put in their place. Currently, people aren’t allowed to smoke in hospital buildings or within 20 feet from the doors of hospitals.

“The main message is that we’re a hospital and we’re not in the business of promoting health behavior that is destructive,” she said. “We seek to support healthy lifestyle behaviors and we want to make it as easy as possible for patients and staff both to be effective in managing their health.”

Schopp said the ban will not affect Truman Veterans Hospital.

About 14 percent of the 5,000 university health employees smoke, Schopp said. The UM Health Center is already providing a Freedom from Smoking class and will also provide nicotine replacements, therapy and other health aid for patients who are hospitalized and for employees who want to quit smoking.

Llona Weis, a member of the Boone Hospital Center’s board of trustees, said about 20 percent of Boone Hospital Center’s 2,000 employees are smokers. The hospital also plans to provide therapy, nicotine replacements and other form of support for patients, visitors and employees, she said. Weis, who is a manager of the Show Me Health Tobacco Education Project, said there’s been a positive reaction to the ban.

“There are a number of people who smoke who said they had been wanting to quit and this is the little extra push that will help them do it,” she said. “I would say a majority of people who have talked with me say they think this is a great thing, that they’re so happy this is happening.”

Bell doesn’t agree.

“People have got to want to quit first; others can’t make them quit,” she said. “I feel like my rights are being taken away. I don’t want to be a patient here.”

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