Hospital smoking ban no surprise

By: Sudbury Northern Life Staff

 | Mar 25, 2014 - 10:02 AM |
The only surprise that should come from Health Sciences North’s decision to completely ban smoking on its property come April 1 is that it took so long. Or perhaps that April Fool’s Day was chosen as the date for the ban to take effect.

As health-care facilities, hospitals have an ethical obligation to promote good health practices and smoking tobacco is certainly on the opposite end of the health spectrum. Various cancers, emphysema, heart disease, stroke — those diseases that kill us by the thousands — smoking has a hand in all of them for those addicted to the weed.

In fact, a 2012 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health study found that of the approximately 250,000 Canadians who pass away every year, more than 16 per cent are killed directly from tobacco use. That’s more than 15,000 people, or about the population of Rayside-Balfour.

The ban was already in effect for hospital staff, volunteers, students and contract workers. Smoking for staff has been verboten since July 2010. The expanded ban extends to patients, who have been able to puff away on the property in designated smoking shelters since that partial ban came into effect.

As of April 1, anyone who wishes to fire up a smoke will have to make their way off the property to the nearest sidewalk, at Walford Road, Paris Street or Ramsey Lake Road.

Truth be told, HSN is not that late to the party. A little more than half the province’s hospitals have smoke-free policies, though that number will only continue to grow as the social acceptability of tobacco continues its ongoing decline. In Northern Ontario, the Sault Area Hospital, Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s General Hospital in Elliot Lake already had policies in place.

We asked readers at NorthernLife.ca if they supported the ban and the majority (61 per cent) of the 200 or so who responded did, indicating the public is on board as well.

By offering nicotine-replacement options to patients who are smokers acknowledges that tobacco smoking is not just a filthy habit, but a powerful addiction. Offering such assistance to “take the edge off” not only minimizes patients’ discomfort for lack of nicotine, but also will likely set a few of them on the path to being a non-smoker, and that is a good thing.

Withdrawal symptoms likely don’t promote good healing for sick people, either.

Nicotine replacement as a quit-smoking aid is not as effective on its own though. It works best when coupled with behavioural therapy, to help the budding non-smoker change his or her lifestyle to avoid or manage the triggers that see them reach for a dart.

HSN should consider offering such counselling to those patients (and staff) who want it. Ethically, it would be the right move: force the smoker to stop, but offer all available resources to help them with that struggle.

It might cost a bit more up front, but it would save health-care dollars down the line in terms of reduced tobacco-related illness rates.

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