Smoking at hospitals continues two years after ban

Smoking at hospitals continues two years after ban

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A woman in a hospital gown took a smoke break outside the University of Tennessee Medical Center next to a sign that reads "This is a tobacco free campus." A woman in a hospital gown took a smoke break outside the University of Tennessee Medical Center next to a sign that reads "This is a tobacco free campus."
"We're seeing about 50 people a day that security is asking to not use tobacco products," said UT Senior Vice President Norman Majors. "We're seeing about 50 people a day that security is asking to not use tobacco products," said UT Senior Vice President Norman Majors.
"Ain't nobody said nothing to me yet," said one smoker who was visiting his wife in the hospital. "I need it and I don't feel like getting in a car driving down the road somewhere. I ain't the only one who comes out here and does it." "Ain't nobody said nothing to me yet," said one smoker who was visiting his wife in the hospital. "I need it and I don't feel like getting in a car driving down the road somewhere. I ain't the only one who comes out here and does it."

By JILL MCNEAL
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - On January 1, 2011, local hospitals came together to ban tobacco use on all of their properties, inside and out. The policy applies not only to employees, but also to patients and visitors.

Nearly two years after that statement, are the hospitals really smoke free? Who's enforcing the rules and who's breaking them?

6 News cameras spotted a woman in scrubs walking up to Tennova's Turkey Creek Medical Center and throwing down her cigarette in front of the "No Smoking" sign before walking through the front door.

A woman in a hospital gown took a smoke break outside the University of Tennessee Medical Center next to a sign that reads "This is a tobacco free campus."

Smokers gathered on benches in front of Covenant's Thomson Cancer Survival Center, sitting down right in front of a "No Smoking" sign.

"We're seeing about 50 people a day that security is asking to not use tobacco products," said UT Senior Vice President Norman Majors.

He acknowledges a trip to the hospital can be very stressful, for patients and visitors, but he said they do have alternatives to lighting up.

"We offer nicotine patches for our patients and we provide Nicorette gum on sale in our gift shop for our visitors," he said.

The UT Medical campus is 91 acres, and according to Majors all of it is smoke free, even the employee parking lot high on a hill where we saw two ambulance workers with their cigarettes.

Rural/Metro told 6 News it fully supports hospital no-smoking policies and is taking extra steps to let its employees know that the bans apply throughout the hospitals' property, including parking areas.

Smokers on more open hospital campuses have an easier time, obeying the letter of the law if not the spirit.

For instance, at Tennova's Physicians Regional, formerly St. Mary's, all you have to do is walk across the street to be off hospital property, whether it's in an alley, by a bus stop, or in a parking lot.

"The last thing we want to have anybody do is have an associate smoking and then go take care of a patient and smell like smoke," said John Ewart, a health and fitness director for Tennova. 

He said no more official smoking areas also means no more ashtrays and a lot more litter.

"We have engineering go out every morning at 6 a.m. and blow off all the cigarette butts into the parking lots and then we go out there and sweep them up," Ewart said.

We found one man smoking near the front door of Tennova's North Knoxville Medical Center. He was waiting for his wife, who was recovering from gallbladder surgery.

"Ain't nobody said nothing to me yet," he said. "I need it and I don't feel like getting in a car driving down the road somewhere. I ain't the only one who comes out here and does it."

So who is supposed to enforce the ban? At UT, it's security. At Tennova, it's maintenance and housekeeping. At Covenant Health, it's all employees.

"If someone is smoking in a designated tobacco-free area, we hope that a staff member will just politely remind them of the policy," said Teresa Gross, communications director for Covenant Health.

She and other hospital officials admit that nearly two years after the ban was put in place, getting people to comply is still challenge, but one they're not giving up on.

"We have made some significant strides. It is still a work in progress," Gross said.

So what are the consequences for hospital employees caught smoking where they work? 

UT said they are counseled and coached, and if it continues, could be fired.

Covenant Health said employees are first reminded of the policy, then given a verbal warning, and could be fired if the violations continue.

Tennova said noncompliance is handled through their "corrective action process."

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