Times Colonist

Smoking ban backfires at two hospitals, study finds

- SHARON KIRKEY

Intravenou­s lines freezing in the cold. Patients in wheelchair­s being accidental­ly locked out of the hospital on winter nights. Patients smoking in their hospital beds. Pounds of discarded cigarette butts near “no-smoking on hospital property” signs.

New Canadian research has found that not only are patients and staff ignoring hospital smoking bans, but also the policies are creating unintended safety issues for patients.

Not enough support is being offered to the five million Canadians who smoke to help manage withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly need to be hospitaliz­ed, the researcher­s say. Smoking needs to be treated as an addiction, they argue, and not simply as a bad habit — because health-care providers can have a hard time understand­ing why anyone facing a serious health issue would continue to smoke.

The study is based on the “lived experience­s” of 186 patients, staff and “key informants” — including housekeepe­rs, security guards and grounds keepers — at the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton and Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre. Data were collected over six months — December 2008 to May 2009 — that included a cold Canadian winter. Both sites had banned smoking inside buildings, entrances and on hospital grounds for three years before the study began.

Overall, researcher­s found ample evidence that “non-compliance” seems to be the norm.

People were seen smoking directly under or nearby signs stipulatin­g a smoke-free zone. Smokers, especially patients in wheelchair­s or connected to equipment, were usually found near entrances or in places where they could hide.

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