Zero tolerance of smoking at hospital sends the right message

Do you think people should be allowed to smoke on NHS premises?

Do you think people should be allowed to smoke on NHS premises?

Smoking is one of those rare subjects which divides people absolutely. A bit like Margaret Thatcher.

My late Sentinel columnist colleague Pete Bossley and I disagreed on both.

At every opportunity he would return to his favourite hobby-horses of bashing Maggie and defending the rights of those who liked nothing better than to light up.

Contrast that with yours truly who has spent years highlighting the fact that Mrs Thatcher did have her plus points and being slaughtered for it.

Meanwhile, I continue to nag – with varying degrees of success – family members and friends to quit smoking so that it doesn’t kill them.

I’m incredibly square. I’ve never smoked. I’ve never even tried it.

As someone who has lived with asthma all his life I struggle to breathe on my own sometimes without polluting my lungs.

My old Boys’ Brigade captain was a prolific smoker with a hacking cough and the habit killed him in the end – leaving a profound impression on 11-year-old me.

Given the fact that smoking is so bad for your health, is so expensive, makes you smell and turns your fingers a funny colour I’ve never really understood the appeal.

But each to his own, I guess – so long as smoking doesn’t affect other people, that is.

Pete Bossley was forever banging on about the fact that, in his view, smokers were being victimised and treated like second class citizens.

Believe it or not there used to be a smoking room within The Sentinel’s newsroom here at Etruria not so long ago and the decision to sacrifice it in favour of an outdoor shelter when the place was refurbished didn’t go down to well with some of my colleagues.

By the same token, there were always – and perhaps still are – those who resented smokers nipping outside every 20 minutes for a fag break while their non-smoker workmates were stuck at their desks.
After all, there’s only so much tea and coffee you can drink.

Moving the smoking area outdoors made perfect sense to me.

For one thing, it meant there wasn’t a corner of the office that I had to avoid for fear of smelling like an ash tray or needing my inhaler.

The smokers didn’t agree, of course – arguing that they shouldn’t have to freeze outside or get wet to indulge their habit.

‘It makes you more productive. Perks you up,’ one of them told me.

Whatever the arguments, outside the shelter has remained and if I look out of my window at any given time on a week day there’s usually a group of smokers huddled together.

That’s all well and good, of course, because the shelter is on the car park of a newspaper offices.

It’s a world away from the grounds of NHS buildings locally where another battle is being fought between the pro-smokers and those who make the rules.

It’s a fight the smokers seem destined to lose.

The University Hospital of North Staffordshire (UHNS) was about to drop its own blanket ban on smoking because it was being so widely ignored.

It had been granted planning permission by the city council to put up five shelters where the public could smoke – including one outside its cancer centre.

Two more hidden smoking zones would also have been created for staff – out of sight of patients.

However, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) has drafted guidelines suggesting all NHS hospitals adopt a zero tolerance approach to smoking on their premises – leading to UHNS being forced to shelve its plans.

Of course, you could argue that if you’re going to ban smoking on the basis that it’s bad for you and it sends the wrong message to patients and their relatives, then you should also ban vending machines selling chocolate, crisps and fizzy drinks or certain foods served on hospital premises.

The difference is, of course, that all those things – in moderation – won’t kill you and I dare say few would object to walking past people sipping from a can of pop or eating a Mars bar or a pasty while entering or leaving a cancer ward.

In contrast, many more don’t like weaving through clouds created by groups of smokers congregating outside the entrances to hospital wards.

If you’ve visited the hospital recently, you’ll know what I mean – whether it’s the maternity unit or oncology.

I can understand hospital bosses wanting a quiet life but is a pretty unedifying spectacle seeing patients standing outside in their dressing gowns or relatives chugging on a cigarette.

They would perhaps argue that smoking helps them to deal with very stressful situations. Well the rest of us get on with it so I’m sure they would cope without a fag.

Let’s face it, if it wasn’t for the tax it brings in, the Government would have banned the sale of tobacco years ago – giving what we know about its affect on people’s health.

Thank goodness for the ban on smoking in enclosed public places.

I am sure you remember only too well returning home from a pub/club/restaurant with your clothes stinking and having breathed in someone else’s cigarette smoke.

Thank goodness too that NICE is recommending this hard-line approach to smoking on NHS premises.

If smokers want to light up in their cars or their own home or in the street, then fine.

However, it seems absurd to tolerate this habit at places where NHS staff are encouraging people to quit and doctors are battling to save lives and repair the damage done by smokers to themselves and other people.

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday

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