Cigarette Bans May Face Determined Smokers, Insulted Neighbors

Scott Wallask, for HealthLeaders Media , May 5, 2009

A trio of hospitals in a Florida community will be among the latest to embrace smoke-free campuses this year, but a bumpy road may be ahead of them in terms of dealing with the practical repercussions of the transition.

The three hospitals involved, all in Panama City, FL, include Bay Medical Center, Gulf Coast Medical Center, and HealthSouth Emerald Coast Rehabilitation Hospital.

"All of the hospitals agreed the official day to go smoke-free is November 19, to coincide with the Great American Smokeout held by the American Cancer Society," says Christa Dean Hild, marketing manager for Bay Medical Center.

Between now and November 19, the hospitals will continue to raise awareness of the change—including offering smoking cessation courses—while also getting any necessary hospital policies revised to reflect the smoking ban, Hild adds.

"We want to give everybody plenty of notice," she says. One potential fall-out from hospital campus smoking bans is smokers heading to surrounding neighborhoods to light up. Some residents who live near medical facilities have complained about smokers congregating near their homes and tossing cigarette butts on their lawns.

The issue became contentious in Aspinwall, PA, last September after the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center St. Margaret banned smoking on its property. That move led to workers and patients—including at least one dragging an IV pole behind him—to head to nearby sidewalks that aren't part of the hospital campus, right in front of residential homes. Even graveyard-shift environmental services workers from the hospital stood alongside lawns at 3 a.m. for a smoke.

"It was nuts," says Ed Warchol, Aspinwall's borough manager. "These [residents] were getting hassled."

St. Margaret officials stood firmly behind their decision to ban smoking, which led neighbors to start a grass-roots campaign to raise media and government awareness of the problem. The borough and the hospital resolved the situation after the medical center found a sliver of state property abutting the hospital and designated it a smoking area, with the state's blessing. "It's literally under some tree," Warchol says.

St. Margaret has since posted signs around the hospital property pointing smokers to their proper spot.

Even well-established smoking bans on medical campuses can encounter hiccups occasionally. Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL, became a smoke-free environment on January 1, 2005. Smoking is prohibited on the entire campus, including parking lots.

Security officers ask anyone they find smoking in their cars in the parking lot to stop smoking or leave the property.

However, "there is pushback on it now and then," says Colette Urban, spokesperson for the Advocate Lutheran General.

The effort leading up to the hospital's 2005 cut-off was two years in the making, with gradual eliminations of smoking privileges, such as indoor smoking areas and smoking allowances for psychiatric patients.

Similar to the Panama City hospitals, Advocate Lutheran General provided staff members and patients with support programs and advice about how to quit smoking. The hospital also created scripts for employees to use with visitors and patients found smoking cigarettes.

Two key points in Advocate Lutheran General's success were promoting the administration's sponsorship of the new policy and anchoring the change to the hospital's mission statement.

Scott Wallask is senior managing editor for the Hospital Safety Center. He can be reached at

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