Tobacco-free policy at area hospitals begins July 1

By Jennifer Lassiter
Star Staff

   Have you ever noticed smokers huddled outside the entrances of buildings or the cigarette butts they leave behind? Starting July 1, 2004, those butts will disappear as a new policy at Sycamore Shoals Hospital begins. The new trend at hospital facilities in East Tennessee will require patients and guests to adhere to the same tobacco-free policy as employees and physicians.
   Employees at SSH are asked to "clock out" for their smoke breaks, which can only take place inside their personal vehicle, and with the new extended policy patients and guests will also have to smoke in their vehicles.
   Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health Systems are now promoting a tobacco-free environment for patients. The policy will prevent patients and guests from using any type of tobacco use on any East Tennessee hospital facility property, which includes parking lots and sidewalks.
   Both health care providers agree that tobacco use is a health concern for East Tennesseans.
   Sycamore Shoals CEO Scott Williams said, "We are taking a 'we care about your health' approach."
   Team members throughout the hospital will be involved in carrying out the tobacco-free policy by simply telling tobacco users that tobacco must be used in their vehicles.
   They are promoting the new policy through the media and a slogan called, "Let's breathe easier." They are considering TV spots in addition to posters and lunch tray signs. The slogan is trying to promote the overall goal of health care providers, which is to provide better health.
   Wellmont Health Systems is taking a relaxed position on enforcement of the no-tobacco rule. Employees are asking individuals they see smoking to use their personal vehicle. Tim Bailer, Wellmont's senior vice president of marketing and communication, said, "This is something that will happen over time. There will be no coercion or physical means taken."
   With the new policy Wellmont officials hope to make a stand toward promoting overall health. "Tobacco use is the single most negative lifestyle factor that affects health, and we as health care providers need to take a lead and encourage a healthy lifestyle," said Bailer.
   Patients will be offered a nicotine patch and nicotine gum while in the hospital to curve their nicotine cravings. Patients who do not comply with the new ruling will be dismissed from the hospital facility. The hospital also offers Smoking Sensation classes aimed at helping patients kick their tobacco habit.
   Johnathan Smith, 25, a patient at SSH, said, "I believe we should have somewhere to smoke." Smith was given a nicotine patch when he first arrived at the hospital.
   There have been mixed responses from patients, employees and guests. Many feel that the policy is good; others feel it's a violation of one's personal rights. Williams said, "It's going to take time, but we are going to be consistent and diligent in the process."
   Linda Hardin, a cashier at Sycamore Shoals Hospital, said, "Personally, I don't smoke. For employees I don't feel it is a problem and for patients I pled the fifth."
   Mental Health Units, Hospice facilities, and patients with special permission from their physicians will be exempt from the policy.