JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's Hospital Association reports that hospitals across the state will implement bans on tobacco use on campuses beginning Friday.
Although the implementation is voluntary for now, it comes in anticipation of a state regulation next year that will make the smoking ban mandatory on hospital grounds -- including parking structures and green spaces.While hospitals now ban smoking inside their buildings, the new state regulation will require a smoking ban on the hospital grounds outside the buildings.
The association, which represents 140 Missouri hospitals, is working closely with hospital administrators to make the transition to completely tobacco-free campuses before the state-wide ban takes effect on July 31, 2007.
MHA spokesperson Dave Dillion said health care facilities will rely on educational programs for successful enforcement of the ban. Both the University of Missouri Health System and Boone Hospital Center will offer resources to employees, patients, and visitors who would like to obtain information about the non-tobacco use policy or enroll in support programs for tobacco users.
Dr. Laura Schopp, Wellness Program Manager for the UM System, said the UM System is taking a "soft touch" approach to begin the program. "We want to inform patients, employees, and visitors of the policy and offer information and resources for them," said Schopp. "We're not saying that people have to quit smoking, but we're offering resources to help them if they want to."
In addition to supplemental information on nicotine addiction and smoking cessation, Schopp said the hospital is promoting over the counter nicotine replacement therapy as well as other alternatives to smoking-- such as breath mints. "I went and got a thousand tins of mints to hand out," said Schopp. "If someone was smoking on hospital campus I would go up to them, inform them of the policy, and give them a mint."
Boone Hospital Center is also offering educational and informational programs to the public. The Director of Human Resources at Boone Hospital Center, Michelle Zvanut, said BHC is implementing an awareness phase before the tobacco ban will go into full effect on Jan. 1, 2007. "The three month plan involves staff reminding visitors, patients, and each other about the policy," said Zvanut. Boone Hospital Center employees can expect consequences to smoking on hospital grounds; after Jan. 1 the first offense will merit a verbal reminder, the second a written warning, the third a final written warning, and the fourth offense will result in termination of employment if necessary.
One thing both hospitals agree on is the premise behind the implementation of the ban-- the creation of a healthier environment for employees and the public. "Our hospitals agree to enter because at the heart of everything we care about the health of the community," said Zvanut.
But some tobacco users aren't so enthusiastic about the ban.
Carla Barker, a smoker and a visitor at University Hospital, said she wasn't happy about the non-tobacco use policy. "They're taking away our rights," said Barker. "Smokers have as many rights as non-smokers do."
As spokesperson for the UM System, Schopp said she understood opinions like Barker's, but wanted to reinforce the point that hospitals are implementing tobacco-free campuses for the good of the community. "It is really hard when one's access to nicotine is threatened," said Schopp. "But there are already places where people can't smoke. It (the ban) is especially reasonable in a health care environment."
Concern also has been raised within the medical field itself.
In written comments to the Health Department's proposed rule, an unnamed hospital system was quoted as asking for the rule to be changed "to accommodate the clinical needs of inpatient psychiatric, substance abuse and chemical dependency patients."
The state agency acknowledged concerns about how the ban would affect such patients, but added in its official rule-making order that there were nicotine replacement products available.
"In the department's role of safeguarding the health of the citizens of Missouri, we cannot condone the use of tobacco products in any setting for any reason," the department concluded in rejecting any change in the 2007 hospital-campus ban on smoking.