Grey-Bruce hospitals should not ban smoking outside

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Smoking tobacco is probably one of the most foolish things a person can do.

It’s bad for your health — in fact it often proves deadly in time.

It can put the health of others near you at risk.

It’s addictive.

It’s expensive.

Except in rare cases of cultural significance, it serves no purpose.

Let’s face it, the jury’s been in on smoking for a long time, and public health officials are right to target it as a cause of preventable sickness and early death.

So we’re not defending smoking. But we do question the wisdom of banning smoking at all hospitals in Grey-Bruce, something now under consideration by local hospital officials.

As the most publicly visible monuments to health in our communities, hospitals are special places. A case can be made that smoking should not be allowed on their grounds. After all, is it not hypocritical to allow an activity shown to be so detrimental to health to be conducted at places dedicated to health?

Perhaps. But hospitals serve people, with all their foibles, not ideals of health. And when you consider the nature of addiction, the fact most patients have no choice but to be at hospitals at an often stressful time, and that people do have a right to decide such matters for themselves, we believe the scales tip toward a controlled accommodation of smokers rather than an outright ban.

By controlled, we mean allowing smoking in an area where smokers are not harming or even inconveniencing others. We support measures to stop people from being exposed to second-hand smoke, since that represents a danger to others. But banning smoking solely because it’s bad for the smoker or to make a statement about the habit is, somewhat ironically, outweighed by other considerations in the special case of hospitals. Here’s why.

Hospitals are a stressful place for many patients, and visitors for that matter, who are probably not there as their first choice. Some can’t or shouldn’t leave the grounds. They are not, in practical terms, free to go smoke elsewhere.

Then there’s the nature of addiction. Someone who is addicted to tobacco is going to suffer if denied it. Can any such suffering be justified in the name of making a statement, as a health organization, against smoking? No.

While the habit may be damaging, the amount of harm to the person’s health during a relatively brief time at hospital versus damage done over the much greater time spent smoking elsewhere doesn’t justify a ban.

There may be individual medical reasons to stop a person from smoking, especially while being treated at the hospital, but that’s a matter between the smoker and his or her doctor, not hospital boards or administrators.

There is also the right of people to decide for themselves to do something, even if it’s not in their best interest — again with the understanding it’s done in a way that doesn’t harm others.

Health care officials should plead, argue, cajole, perhaps even shame people into reconsidering smoking. And we as a society should ensure smoking is not done in a way that directly affects others.

But does the laudable goal of repudiating smoking justify banning it completely at hospitals? Considering the need for compassion for patients addicted to tobacco, we say no.

-Doug Edgar



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