Smoking to be banned in grounds of hospitals
Smoking in the grounds of any Northern Ireland hospital is to be banned from next month.
Health bosses hope the move will pave the way for a cultural change and help prevent thousands of premature deaths.
It means staff, patients and visitors will no longer be allowed to smoke at the entrance of buildings, in car parks or even inside cars on Trust premises.
Chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride said: "Smoking not only has a human cost. With one third of cancer deaths, and a significant proportion of coronary heart disease, strokes and circulatory illnesses caused by smoking, it creates a massive financial burden on the health service in treating preventable smoking-related conditions.
"It is unacceptable for patients, visitors and staff to be subjected to second-hand smoking while in health and social care facilities. By making this move, we hope to both protect people's health directly and to influence cultural change by creating new norms around smoking in public.
"By creating smoke-free environments, supported by stop smoking services, we hope we can take a big step forward in empowering people to quit their habit and live healthier lives."
Dr McBride was speaking as a smoking shelter outside the regional cancer centre in Belfast was demolished to make way for a bike dock - marking one month to go before the ban is introduced.
He warned that one in every two smokers would die from their habit. "By going smoke-free, the health service is taking a big step forward in tackling smoking head-on by making its premises healthier environments," added Dr McBride.
The Western Health and Social Care Trust, which runs Altnagelvin and Daisy Hill hospitals, introduced a smoke-free policy last year. It will be rolled out across the four other health authorities from March 9 to coincide with No Smoking Day.