While Yale-New Haven Hospital makes no butts about its commitment to eradicating secondhand smoke from its premises, the pungent odor of tobacco lingered in the skywalk leading from the hospital’s entrance to the attached parking garage this past Saturday.
After nearly a year of discussions, all Yale-New Haven property, including the parking lot, garages and hospital-owned sidewalks, became 100 percent smoke-free on Jan. 1, 2009, garnering mixed reviews from community members — many of whom are complaining about the regulation’s infringement on personal rights.
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The policy will likely be extended to the public sidewalks surrounding the hospital, pending approval Jan. 22 by the New Haven Board of Aldermen. The hospital’s effort follows on the heels of the statewide Connecticut Hospital Association initiative, launched in November 2008, to get all 29 of its member groups smoke-free by November 2010.
To date, 10 of the association’s hospitals, now including Yale-New Haven, have eliminated smoking on their grounds, and at least 1,219 hospitals across the country have put into place similar smoke-free policies, according to Americans for Non-Smokers’ Rights, a national lobbying organization.
Remarked Leslie Gianelli, director of communication for the CHA: “Hospitals have been smoke-free inside for some time, but if people can just step outside the hospital and smoke that is really not in the spirit of a smoke-free policy.”
ENFORCING THE RULE
Currently, the hospital has established no penalties for those caught violating the ban. Security personnel will ask those caught smoking in banned areas to extinguish their butts.
Nonetheless, some hospital workers interviewed on Sunday said they were less than thrilled about the new rules.
“I don’t think they have a right to tell you what or what not to do on public property,” said a hospital employee who asked that his name be withheld. After discarding his cigarette in the snow across the hospital’s entrance, he conceded that the ban made sense given that the hospital was building a new cancer center.
“The ban will help people who really want to quit, but I think some people just don’t want to quit,” he added. “If people are going to smoke they are going to smoke.” Indeed, even visitors who said they support the ban were found violating the policy almost two weeks after the policy took effect.
Maureen, a visitor to the hospital who also requested anonymity, said she supported the policy as she exited the skywalk and took a puff from her half-finished cigarette.
Tamika Streater, a Yale-New Haven employee who does not smoke, said that a number of her co-workers were upset about the ban, especially given the inclement weather. Now, she said, many are forced to walk as much as a block away from the hospital to smoke, now that the hospital has closed its smoking room — previously located just outside the front entrance.
“There have been a lot of complaints,” Streater said. “However, as the weather warms up they’ll probably stop,” she added.
A CONTENTIOUS ISSUE
On average, 15.5 percent of Connecticut adults smoke — about five percentage points lower than the national average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Yale-New Haven Hospital Senior Vice President of Human Resources Kevin Myatt wrote in the proposal put before the Board of Aldermen that the measure was put in place out of concern for the health and safety of its employees, patients and families.
Alongside the ban, Yale-New Haven is expanding their available smoking cessation programs for hospital employees who struggle with the new restrictions and are trying to quit.
Originally, the Yale-New Haven proposal was to be expedited through the approval process at a Board of Aldermen meeting held Dec. 8. Though the board unanimously supported the proposal, East Rock Alderman Roland Lemar said he would veto the proposal if it were put to vote without public input. Following Lemar’s request, a public hearing was held on Dec. 16 at the New Haven City Hall, but no members of the general public appeared to speak against the measure.
The unanimous support of the board notwithstanding, the measure has polarized community members, with proponents citing the right to smoke-free air and opponents citing the ban’s infringement upon smokers’ rights.
In the petition to the Board of Alderman, Myatt noted that the hospital annually receives hundreds of complaints from patients and visitors afflicted with respiratory illnesses and from parents of newborns who are worried about their exposure to dangerous secondhand smoke.
“I think what they’re doing is great,” Yale-New Haven employee Sue Losi, who kicked the habit 22 years ago, said, “but I sympathize with those who are having a hard time.”