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Smokers being pushed away from QHC property

BELLEVILLE, ON (26/11/12) Reuben Maclean enjoys a smoke on the sidewalk outside Belleville General Hospital. Maclean is following the rules of QHC, as he is off the property while having his cigarette. Photo by John Boldrick.

By: John Boldrick

Reuben Maclean stands alone outside the hospital on a windy day. Many others are inside, content with their warm dwellings.

That’s not important to Maclean. He is outside because of something he cares about more than warmth.

Cigarettes.

Maclean has been smoking for 50 years, and while he made the choice to take up the habit, the choice to quit isn’t entirely his.

“Do I wish I had stopped- yes, but (I) haven’t got the willpower yet,” he said.

So there he stands, on a blustery day, having a smoke outside of one of the clearest examples of the dangers of secondhand smoke, the hospital.

Not to worry, Maclean is following the rules, which clearly state there is no smoking on any Quinte Health Care property. That wasn’t always the rule though.

Rewind to 2009. Back then, you only had to be nine metres or further away from any hospital entrance to enjoy your favourite tobacco product. That all changed on July 1st 2009, when QHC implemented a policy banning smoking on the premises, including in parking lots, sidewalks on hospital property and inside cars.

“We still had people smoking in front of the main entrance, or any of the side entrances- they were still on hospital property so we decided to go one step further and become a smoke-free hospital,” said Susan Rowe, director of communications for QHC.

While the move may have been met with resistance in other parts of the country, the transition was seamless at QHC.

“Generally the compliance has been very good and it wasn’t as difficult as we worried it would be,” said Rowe, “I think because (we) weren’t the first hospital to do this, we weren’t the trail blazers, so that always makes it easier. I think because our hospitals are fairly small so it’s certainly an inconvenience for people having to walk to the sidewalk but it’s really only a 30-second walk for most people.”

That’s what Maclean does. He understands that not everyone wants to breathe in stale smoke from his Export A’s.

“It might not be the letter of the law but you obey the intent” “You try not to impose on other people that don’t like smoke,” he said.

That’s the purpose of QHC’s new policy. While the health organization would like to eliminate smoking, their main concern in making the policy change was the people who don’t want to inhale other’s fumes.

“Our goal is to get people to stop smoking, so that’s what the focus is on,” said Rowe,  “It was wanting to promote healthy living as much as possible but it was concern about the second hand smoke for people who are coming into the hospital and also, of course, for our staff.”

Rowe said the new policy has been working. There have been few instances of the public smoking on QHC property, and none of them were serious violations.

“Most patients and visitors who are seen smoking on the property simply don’t know- they don’t notice the signs and when you ask them to move them to move to the sidewalk they are quite able and willing to do that,” she said.

The policy also extends to employees of the hospital, although according to Rowe, they don’t really need to be told. Rowe can only account one instance of group of employees smoking on QHC property and even then they were only five- ten feet over the line.

“That type of thing might happen but it’s really a rare occurrence. And generally speaking when people are reminded or told of the policy, they’re going to comply with it,” she said.

Doctors or nurses do not have to change out of their scrubs while going out for a quick nicotine fix, Rowe said.

It all seems like a pain, having to go away from the hospital in cold, windy, sometimes rainy weather, only to be isolated while having a smoke, but it’s one that Maclean is willing to put up with.

He started smoking because everyone was smoking. It quickly developed into a pack a day habit, one that continues to follow him around to this day.

“It’s always been a pack a day.-never decreased, never increased just steady,” he said.

Maclean knows of the potential dangers. While he hasn’t visited a doctor in 20 years and doesn’t seem to be any worse for wear, there are warning signs in his life.

Maclean is visiting the hospital with his wife, who is undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer. While the cancer may not have been caused by cigarettes, Maclean does live with a reminder of what his fate may be if he doesn’t quit smoking.

Still, all that doesn’t scare Maclean. He plans to quit on his terms, and there is only one situation where he can see himself giving up his addiction.

“Death.”