The Dryden Observer

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Cold Turkey

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.

I took notice recently when Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre announced its intentions to enforce the total smoking ban on its grounds with renewed vigor after nine years of letting smokers pretend they didn’t see the signs.

This issue has always fascinated me from the governance perspective. TBRHSC’s actions will certainly be watched closely by other regional hospitals that struggle with the question of what to do with smokers.

On the surface, it’s reasonable to expect that hospitals and health care providers possess an unwavering ideological viewpoint towards the largest preventable cause of death in Canada. Smoking and hospitals are ethically at odds with each other in a fundamental way.

From a policy point of view, anything less than an outright ban seems irresponsible to some people. The farther one gets from their last cigarette, the easier it becomes to view the issue in terms of absolutes, to regard smokers as a group possessing an unfortunate character flaw that society should neither accommodate nor enable.

So why are we still dealing with problems over smoking a decade after most hospital boards in the region first started talking about limiting patients, guests and employees’ options to light up?

It’s because addictions defy all logic, drive people with unrelenting tenacity to pursue relief from physical discomfort. In the captive and heightened emotional atmosphere of a hospital, such moral posturing on tobacco from a hospital board of directors is akin to telling someone they’re not allowed to go to the bathroom anymore — at least not on the property.

I’m no tobacco apologist. I’m largely ‘okay’ with the effort to social-engineer smoking out of existence, but policies have to be grounded in reality to work.

Hospitals are public places and more than one-in-four Northwestern Ontarians smoke, that’s a daunting figure for any health professional tasked with providing support for smoking patients, families and staff. There are genuine issues of compassion to consider. These policies do represent physical hardship for some. Failing to recognize or failing to care shows a lack of understanding about addictions from the institutions that are supposed to understand them better than anyone.

How hard of a line are hospitals willing to take? How much resources are they willing to commit to addressing Canada’s largest preventable cause of death?

Dryden’s hospital has reached a sort of natural equilibrium in its approach — maintaining a designated smoking area in its courtyard and offer smoking cessation products to patients families and staff members. Still, I remember attending hospital board meetings in the past where the Chief of Staff of the day raged over the hypocrisy in allowing smoking to exist in any form on the property.

Emboldened by 10 years of dropping smoking rates, maybe it is time to make our uncompromising stance on tobacco more uncompromising. How to achieve it, is the real question.

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