Health trust bans smoking outside its buildings
The Western Health and Social Care Trust is set to introduce a blanket ban on smoking on all of its property – the first health trust here to do so.
From National No Smoking Day on March 12, smoking will be banned on-site for everyone – patients, service users, staff, members of the public and contracted workers.
The ban will mean that smoking will not be permitted anywhere on trust grounds or premises, including buildings, entrances, pavements and car parks.
There will be no shelters where patients can smoke and staff will not be allowed to smoke in their cars on site.
Staff who flout the ban face potential disciplinary action.
Dr Albert McNeill, co-chair of the Western Trust's Smokefree Board and lead clinician for cardiology, said the trust would not be throwing patients and visitors off its property if they lit up.
Instead, a policy of persuasion and the offer of support – such as nicotine replacements and counselling – would be offered to help diehard smokers.
Dr McNeill compared the extended ban to the trust's current policy of banning alcohol on its property, and said a publicity campaign would take place in the run-up to it.
"The majority of people won't smoke outside if they are made aware of the policy, and I hope that by March 12 they will be aware they won't be able to smoke on trust property and won't light up," he said.
"We hope not to have to be punitive. We won't physically remove visitors or be heavy-handed, but with regards to patients, we will focus on replacements like nicotine and counselling."
That support will also extend to staff, who face a lengthy walk off-site if they refuse to quit.
"I would be surprised if the new policy was flaunted. I think staff will respect and abide by it," added Dr McNeill. "The situation could be compared to our alcohol free policy. In the same way, staff have to realise this is policy and something they must comply with – and the vast majority will."
Dr McNeill said a trust survey had found that 75% of staff favoured a smoke-free campus.
Altnagelvin Hospital porter Martin Magee and his wife Mary decided to quit smoking after visiting the stop smoking drop-in clinic in Carnhill Resource Centre and have both successfully quit for the past six months.
Mr Magee said: "I am feeling great and since giving up smoking, I have noticed a great improvement in my health – we definitely see a big difference in our finances as well.
"The greatest reward is the praise from our children who are over the Moon that we have finally managed to stop smoking." Philip McCaffrey, a porter in the South West Acute Hospital, said: "My main reason for giving up smoking was due to my health. I am a diabetic and I knew it was time to make a change to my lifestyle. I now feel fantastic and never want to look back."
Similar smoke-free bans have already been introduced in hospitals and healthcare facilities in other parts of the UK, the Republic, United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Spain.
"As a health service employer we recognise the hazards to health that smoking causes, both for smokers and for those breathing in other people's smoke. The health of our patients and staff is a top priority for the trust and we wish to provide the best environment for those who come to work in our facilities. We realise that becoming a smoke free trust will take time to achieve – however maintaining a smoke free environment in and around our hospitals is everyone's business and we are committed to ensuring it becomes the norm to benefit everyone's health."
Dr Albert McNeill, Western Trust lead clinician for cardiology
Is this really the way forward in convincing people it's time to stop?
Yes says Tom Black, BMA GP committee chair
Smoking is an addiction that traps the victim into a very expensive habit that causes cancer, chronic illnesses and premature death. It is important we don't demonise smokers when we talk about bans as many are trapped by their addiction and want to stop.
This decision to ban smoking is welcome as it will reduce the opportunities for patients, staff and the visiting public to indulge in this deadly habit.
A comprehensive ban will send a clear message to the public that not only is smoking bad for your own health, but it's bad for the health of those around you, breathing in secondary smoke.
One of the most depressing sights is the huddled groups of patients outside hospital entrances often connected to drips feeding their addiction and polluting the air for patients being admitted.
This is an addiction that can be treated with nicotine replacement therapy, which is very effective.
A ban will encourage patients to seek help with their addiction rather than to default to their habit. This decision will encourage staff and patients to stop smoking in significant numbers, saving a lot of expense and harm.
I look forward to the rest of the NHS adopting this policy and there's plenty of help available in pharmacies and GP practices for anyone who wants help with nicotine replacement.
No says commentator Ruth-Dudley Edwards
I'm very glad I quit smoking in the 80s, and I'm delighted that tobacco consumption is going down – but I hate the intolerance towards smokers.
There are few of us without vices, but our rulers have singled out the consumption of tobacco – rather than, say, alcohol or fizzy drinks or prescription drugs – as uniquely wicked.
It was bad enough that pubs and clubs and offices were forbidden to have a smoking room but as zealotry took hold, common sense, perspective and charity were forgotten.
Citing passive smoking – the effects of which are grossly exaggerated – campaigners now begrudge people even the right to shiver smoking in the rain.
(Globally) the Western Trust isn't the first health institution to apply a campus-wide ban, but that doesn't make it right.
Did it trouble no one that – at their most vulnerable – sick and frightened people will be denied the meagre comfort of braving the elements for a quick puff?
The puritans are bearing down next on prisons – where illegal drugs circulate freely – intent on removing from unhappy people one of their few legal pleasures.
May I suggest to these merciless campaigners a New Year resolution. Give up intolerance and sanctimony: they're worse vices than smoking.