Smoking Bans Cause Safety Issues for Hospital Patients

Dec 16, 2011


Hospital No Smoking Safety Concerns

In an example of the law of unintended consequences, a recent study found that hospital smoke-free bans may be endangering the well-being of patients. The study, conducted by the Psychosocial Oncology and Cancer Nursing Research Group at St. Boniface Hospital Research Centre, Winnipeg, Canada, recently documented dangerous conditions that resulted when patients defied the smoking ban when hospitalized. The study found incidences of wheelchair patients being accidentally locked out of the hospital on cold winter nights, patients dragging their IVs outside through the snow, IVs becoming frozen, and electronic equipment malfunctioning because of the cold temperatures.

The researchers’ study was based on interviews of nursing staff, patients and hospital workers at Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre and the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton and was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The study concluded that not enough support is provided to smokers to manage withdrawal symptoms while they are hospitalized. As a result, patients are left to their own devices.

Hospital staff said patients would constantly ask to be taken outside. Patients maintained that they didn’t want to go outside alone to smoke because they were afraid they would get sick while outside. Those that did risked getting frostbite. Guards told of patients who were “pushing this IV pole all the way down the sidewalk in the snow” after they were told they couldn’t smoke on hospital grounds. One wheelchair patient was locked outside on a winter night because he couldn’t see the sign saying the doors lock after certain hours. The sign, placed at eye level, was too high for him to see.

Hospital No Smoking Safety Concerns

Another dangerous scenario documented by the researchers was of patients in isolation due to infection smoking outside, then tossing their used cigarette butts on the ground. The discarded butts could potentially spread disease if picked up and smoked by another person desperately wanting a smoke.

Additionally, hospital smoking bans disrupted nursing care when patients took smoke breaks, leaving nurses with no idea when they would return. Some nurses were understanding, others weren’t. Because smoking is considered a habit rather than an addiction, healthcare providers are not always sympathetic and may have a hard time understanding why a patient with a serious medical problem would continue smoking.

“I have zero understanding on the drive to make a person get out of there, have that cigarette when they’re obviously having pain,” said one healthcare worker. Another hospital employee was more sympathetic. “We need to address these people, because it is a stressful time to give up your bad habit.”

The researchers reported that although some patients managed to go cold turkey during their hospital stay, they had to do so with very little to no support.


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About the author

Jill Liphart
Jill Liphart

Jill is a writer, blogger, social media and Internet marketer, work-at-home, single mom of 5. She provides news about issues that are important to people with disabilities, their loved ones, disability advocates and their friends.


  1. m.weck
    December 18, 2011

    Separate, well ventilated, indoor smoking areas are not an impossible solution.
    I have visited hospitals with luxurious indoor ”gardens” or atriae…& bars with excellent ventilation systems.
    when a pt is well enough to want to light up-
    that is a sign of progress. Medical ”experts” hate to admit that. Treating the whole pt means not ignoring any particular factor. Ridiculous ”footage” bans only complicate matters & do not
    ”protect” non smokers- as there is little harm from a wisp of smoke.

  2. Jonik
    December 18, 2011

    The most troubling part of this is that this assault on smokers serves to distract from the parts of the health care industry that are part and parcel of the cigarette industry.

    To all appearances, doctors, researchers, and other medical professionals prefer to burden and condemn smokers, the primary victims of the cigarette industry, rather than embarrass or displease, or bring significant liability charges against, some of their colleagues, superiors, and funding sources. Understandable, but unacceptable.

    Top Pharmaceuticals (Bayer, Rhone Poulenc, Syngenta, Novartis, etc.) make or have made tobacco pesticides. They may be the most deadly parts of Big Cig. They are all ignored by those doctors and others. No patient is automatically tested for body burden of those pesticide residues. What patient even knows to ask for such a test? Most think, and are told, it””s all just tobacco, and their darn “habit”. Far from it.

    Typical cigarettes deliver deadly doses of dioxin in the smoke. Remember Agent Orange and Times Beach, etc? The dioxins come from the chlorine pesticides and the bleached paper. This is still legal, for one reason, because medical professionals haven””t joined in mass outrage against that. Why not? Well, most pharmaceuticals are up to HERE in chlorine, and so are hospitals with all the dangerous chlorine disinfectants etc….not to mention the plastics and bleached fabrics. Further, just about all top for-profit health insurers invest billions in chlorine industries (including cigarette makers). A doctor or nurse who wants to keep his-her job better look the other way. Let””s blame the uninformed, unprotected, insufficiently-warned victims (smokers)instead. Also, for good measure, blame the unpatented, public domain, natural, traditionally-used, and even medicinal (yes) tobacco plant.

    Radioactive phosphate fertilizers are still allowed (true!) on tobacco despite the cancer-causing capabilities of that PO-210 radiation. Doctors and hospitals don””t check smokers, even cancer patients, for that radiation despite it being a Known Carcinogen. Why not? Well, maybe it””s because that would reflect badly on radiological interests with the x-rays and all.
    Maybe, again, it would do harm to the health insurers who invest hugely in the radioactive cigarette industry. (Google “insurers invest tobacco”.)
    And maybe it””s because if ANY non-tobacco toxin or carcinogen is exposed and indicted, the chain reaction would badly (and deservedly) affect the pesticides, chlorine, cigarette manufacturing, insurance, and investment cartels that are involved.

    References for some-most of the above at …or just search up relevant terms. No secret. Just ignored…by our trusted (?) medical professionals, and by public officials who are AWOL from their sworn and paid duties to protect us from exactly such things.

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