The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

February 5, 2013

No butts about it: New rule in effect at local hospitals

By Rebecca Croomes
news@athensnews-courier.com

— Tobacco users have been forced to move their butts elsewhere after a smoking ban enacted by Huntsville Hospital took effect Friday.

Each campus within the Huntsville Hospital group, including Athens-Limestone Hospital, put a stop to smoking by prohibiting employees and visitors from lighting up anywhere on the grounds. This ban includes areas previously open to smokers, including parking lots and decks. Specially designated smoking areas are no longer an option.

Additionally, hospital officials are asking the local government to consider extending the ban to include public sidewalks that adjoin the property.

The measure represents a joint effort among hospitals and medical centers across North Alabama to clean the air. Athens-Limestone Hospital CEO Kelli Powers believes it was the right thing to do.

“We’re a health and wellness organization trying to improve people’s health,” Powers said. “I think it’s been a really positive thing.”

Monday marked the start of another work week and the second real day for gauging response to the ban, but Powers was optimistic.

“Friday went really well,” she said, adding that most of the visitors adhered to the new rule. She also said those who were observed smoking were cooperative with hospital staff. Employees were also supportive of the measure.

Wynell Reynolds of New Cut Road was for the ban because she always had to pass through a group of smokers by the front door when visiting a friend or going to the emergency room.

“It’s just like going through a fog to get in,” Reynolds said.

Powers said the ban, plus a smoking cessation support group, is one of the first steps in a plan to improve rural, community health in Limestone County over the next decade. She did not give specifics, but said other initiatives could include programs to curb obesity and cope with chronic pain.

“We really need to focus on making people well,” she said said.

Some residents do not appreciate the sentiment.

“It's ridiculous,” said Athens resident Ricky Sides. “There is no empirical evidence that exposure to second-hand smoke in an outdoor setting has any ill effects on people. This is just another example of junk science gaining credibility through repetition. Unfortunately, patients can't just walk across the street to light up, so they'll just have to deal with the withdrawal on top of the illness that hospitalized them.”

When The News Courier posed the question of a smoking ban to its Facebook page, users debated air quality over creature comforts.

“As a health care facility, they should promote good health,” said Athens user Ashley Romine Smith. “Clearly, smoking is not good for anyone. As far as designated smoking areas, they did have those, yet people will still stand and pollute the air by the door. I say good for Huntsville Hospital.”