St. Raphael sidewalks may go smoke-free

Despite a legislative snag last week, sidewalks around the Hospital of St. Raphael, located on Chapel Street near Orchard Street, will in all likelihood become smoke-free in the coming weeks.

At the Board of Aldermen meeting last Monday night, the board shelved a proposal to ban smoking on the sidewalks surrounding the hospital. Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah, whose ward includes St. Raphael’s, attempted to fast-track the ban through a process known as unanimous consent, but Ward 1 Alderwoman Rachel Plattus ’09 and Ward 9 Alderman Roland Lemar voiced objections, arguing that the ban should not go into effect before residents of the neighborhood have a chance to voice potential concerns.

A public hearing on the measure is scheduled for Oct. 6, although city officials said the ban is sure to pass without much opposition.

In an interview, Lemar said the only objections to the proposal, which would affect sections of Sherman Avenue and Chapel, George and Orchard streets, involve “process, not policy.”

The new ban follows the one enacted in January at Yale-New Haven Hospital, which had also been denied unanimous consent and referred to an open session of the Human Services Committee. Although not a single member of the community attended the session last December, Lemar said a hearing must be held as a matter of principle.

Because smoking on a city sidewalk is a widely accepted right, restricting it requires a higher threshold, Lemar said. He added: “We have to outline specific concerns to the public.”

Despite the delay, administrators at St. Raphael’s said they are not discouraged.

“We have no problem with a public hearing,” said Martha Judd, the hospital’s vice president for community and government relations. “We expected it.”

She said the hospital plans to send presenters to the hearing to testify in support of the ban. According to a fact sheet distributed by St. Raphael’s to explain the ban to members of the community, the hospital administration believes a totally smoke-free environment is “consistent with the mission of hospitals.”

Officials at St. Raphael’s said they are already planning to eliminate the designated outdoor smoking area and prohibit all on-campus smoking starting Nov. 19, to coincide with the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout Day. But the sidewalk smoking ban, which would involve city-owned property, requires city approval.

Shah, who works at the Hill Health Center on Columbus Avenue and described himself as passionate about the health effects of smoking, said he was disappointed that Plattus and Lemar rejected his motion.

“I think they just wanted to have a hearing because Yale-New Haven had one,” Shah said in an interview.

Though Plattus said in an e-mail that she was concerned with being consistent, she also argued that the legislation was a special case because it restricts what is otherwise permitted in a public space.

“Those affected should be afforded an opportunity to voice their support or opposition,” she said.

Shah said he was confident in the popularity of the proposed ban among his constituents, based on discussions during a series of recent Community Management Team meetings. Judd added that she has received complaints about secondhand smoke, since many patients and visitors must walk through the smoke to enter the hospital, she said.

Shah said he believes this ban, while important, should not be the end — there are additional public spaces in the city that should subjected to smoking regulations, he said.

“Health facilities, educational facilities and anywhere children are present — we shouldn’t ignore any place. The state has banned smoking in restaurants and bars,” he said, “but we shouldn’t stop there.”

As part of a two-year campaign by the Connecticut Hospital Association, 14 hospitals in Connecticut have already become smoke-free. Six more, including St. Raphael’s, intend to make the switch by Nov. 19.

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