Hospital Sends Mixed Smoke SignalsTobacco smoking is the single greatest cause of premature death and leading preventable cause of morbidity in NSW. There’s a tobacco-related death every 28 minutes in Australia.
And smokers aren’t just harming themselves. Non-smokers who share footpaths, entrances, lifts and other common areas are at risk of breathing in second-hand tobacco smoke from cigarettes and exhaled smoke.
The Cancer Council states that children exposed to second-hand smoke are at an increased risk of SIDS, acute respiratory infections, ear problems and more severe asthma. Adults are at increased risk of lung cancer, coronary heart disease and immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system.
Now, here’s my beef. Over the course of my pregnancy and subsequent post-natal visits at the Prince of Wales Private Hospital and Royal Hospital for Women, I have had to dodge many smokers who park themselves on the footpath and entrances to the hospital. This is despite the fact that the hospital has extensive signage stating the hospital grounds are non-smoking (ironically, most of the smokers have to sit beneath a non-smoking sign to light up).
A couple of months ago I had a hospital appointment and the rain was bucketing down. Upon entering the hospital grounds I counted six people smoking at the front of the hospital. I had to make a decision to either keep my baby and myself dry by walking on the covered footpath, breathing in the smokers’ tobacco fumes in the process, or to take a wide berth around the smokers and become saturated. Quite simply, that’s a decision I shouldn’t have had to make.
I marched to the reception area to complain. The Prince of Wales Hospital’s receptionist told me they knew about the smokers but security wouldn’t come down anymore because there is nothing they can do about it. I moved on to the Royal Hospital for Women’s receptionist and, after she argued about where the smokers were, she also said she would “speak to a manager but there’s nothing they can do”.
A call to the State MP for Coogee Bruce Notley-Smith’s office was met with support and a commitment to take action. However, after they spoke with the Director of Operations for the Prince of Wales Hospital, Andrew Bernard, they concluded that while everything was in place to dissuade smokers, there were no immediate solutions. Mr Bernard said he had a “duty of care to patients who were smoking and couldn’t ask them to move”.
To Notley-Smith’s credit, he contacted the State Minister for Health Jillian Skinner’s office, which replied by saying that “while the Smoke Free Environment policy prohibits smoking on hospital grounds, there is no legally enforceable option available to sanction those who decide to smoke”.
Skinner mentioned that her recently proposed Tobacco Legislation Amendment Bill (introduced to State Parliament on May 31) will give Local Health Districts scope to allow for enforceable fines to be issued to persons who are smoking in outdoor areas. So the security staff will fine people. And for the objectors, the police may become involved. But can’t the smokers exercise some common decency so our tax dollars are spent rewarding hard-working doctors and nurses, not chasing recalcitrant smokers?
In the meantime, perhaps the hospitals could direct smokers away from entrances to ensure safe passage for visitors without the fear of breathing in tobacco smoke. Minister Skinner said this was not in the “spirit” of the Health Service’s Smoke Free Environment policy.
Hopefully the Tobacco Legislation Amendment Bill will be passed quickly, so we can all breathe easy.