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Smoking shelter demolished but will plan for hospitals to ban cigarettes really stub out problem?

By Lindy McDowell

Published 10/02/2016

Demolition man: Dr Michael McBride
Demolition man: Dr Michael McBride

Anyone who's ever had a sneaky fag behind the bike shed at school will be forgiven a wry smile at the news that a smoking shelter outside a hospital in Belfast has been demolished to make way for ... a bike shed.

Okay, to be more precise, a bike dock - a parking area for those sturdy pay-as-you-go cycles you now see all over the city.

On hand to oversee this week's demolition of the smoking shelter (outside Belfast's regional cancer centre) was Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride. He didn't do all the sledge-hammering stuff himself - presumably health and safety issues. But you could hardly miss the message.

About as subtle as a wrecking ball was the symbolism of a haven for an unhealthy habit being transformed into a launch pad for wholesome exercise. The health service version of a swords-into-ploughshares makeover.

And who could argue with that? Especially outside a cancer centre of all places. Who could argue with plans to turn all grounds in all hospitals in Northern Ireland into no-smoking zones which is what will happen from next month?

Patients, visitors and staff will not be allowed to smoke anywhere in hospital grounds. Anywhere. Including in car parks. Even in private cars. Even if you're lying flat on the back seat and no-one can see you.

If nothing else this will at least get rid of those sad picket lines of patient (in every sense) smokers you currently have to wade through to get into just about any hospital in the land.

There's something just not right about the sight of those shivering souls in their dressing gowns huddling for warmth as close to the main entrance as current No Smoking policy allows while a cumulus of their own smog engulfs them. The ones with oxygen tanks attached look particularly poignant (not to mention a wee bit alarming).

That couldn't be allowed to go on.

I've never been a smoker myself. Like Bill Clinton I didn't inhale - or more honestly, didn't get to grips with the inhalation process back in school when smoking was more or less compulsory.

Otherwise I would probably be puffing away with the best of them now.

So a total ban holds no fears for me.

Here's the thing, though. You don't have to be a 60 a day consumer to know that there are people out there who are seriously addicted to ciggies and who will find it extremely difficult to stop. Just like that.

Especially at a time when they are ill, maybe facing a major operation and under severe stress.

The plan by the local health trusts is to "provide tailored support for people who want to quit". Very commendable. And absolutely you can see the dilemma for health chiefs preaching the evils of smoking on one hand and then having to tolerate it (up until now anyway) in hospital grounds.

But still. Smoking is a fierce addiction for many of those already hooked. And whether they can be persuaded, helped or even have the ability to give it up for a duration of a hospital stay is open to question. For some it will be utter hell.

Will we just see the front door smokers hitch up their dressing gowns and steer their wheelie oxygen tanks that bit further down the road, out of hospital grounds?

And is this actually a solution?

Or like so much we do here, is the "no shelter for smokers" strategy just a way of moving the problem out of sight - and inhalation?

And on to someone else's patch.

Pizzas taking slice of delivery market

I've mentioned before in relation to Uber taxis that if the number of their light-up signs you see on car roofs are anything to go by, they're still not making massive inroads into the local market.

Pizza delivery however, is a different matter. In the last week I've spotted endless vehicles with wee light-up domino signs on the roof. It's like an invasion.

In one street a slow-moving convoy of pizza carriers was cruising along like a Kim Jung Un drive-past in Pyongyang. Just how much pizza are we actually consuming in this place?

War bunker could be cold house for Spads

Great story about the Cold War bunker going up for sale in Ballymena.

One popular suggestion is that it should now be bought to house our elected elite and other "VIPs". Shut them in there and throw away the key, people say.

Harsh perhaps, but going with that one, maybe we could make some money in the process? The bunker would be an ideal film set.

And in our MLAs we've a cast of dozens of what you could call "extras". Plus there's a movie just crying out to be made here. Spads' Army.

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