At just 47-years-old, Tim Allsopp is battling throat cancer. He doesn’t smoke but during his treatment, he says, he’s been exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke more often because he often passes by people smoking on his way to treatment at Calgary’s Tom Baker Cancer Centre.
“Everyday when we come to therapy, we notice that there’s people smoking outside the building,” Allsopp said. “That’s confusing to me because the policy states, no smoking on Alberta Health Services property, this includes buildings, grounds and parking lots.”
“I’m at the point now where I’m very susceptible to infection and that could land me in the emergency department in almost life threatening condition.”
While AHS has had a smoke-free hospital grounds policy for years, it doesn’t take long to spot people lighting up. AHS says it tries to enforce its policy, but it’s not easy.
“Our protective services people try to use an educational approach first but if that’s not successful, then they have the power to issue a ticket,” said Dr. Brent Friesen, lead medical officer of health for Alberta Health Services’ tobacco reduction strategy.
Friesen says the problem is that AHS can only issue tickets for people breaking either provincial law or city by-law, not AHS policy. That means, while AHS may say no smoking is allowed on hospital grounds, the province only requires people keep a five-metre distance from hospital doors.
“If they’re further than five metres away, the option that’s available for our protective staff is to charge the person with trespassing but that’s a cumbersome approach in terms of having to get a court order and it (also) starts to raise concerns in terms of what implications that might have for that individual, if they want to seek care in the future.”
It’s a similar situation for hospitals across the country. Provincial rules in B.C. require smokers keep a distance of six metres from hospital entrance ways, in Winnipeg eight metres is required and Ontario and Quebec require nine metres between hospital doors and anyone lighting up. Next year, however, Ontario will become the first province to ban smoking entirely on hospital grounds. Anyone caught violating the rule could face a $1,000 fine.
Friesen says Alberta Health Services would like Alberta’s provincial government to follow Ontario’s lead but Alberta health minister, Sarah Hoffman, says patients who are addicted to nicotine deserve compassion as well.
“I think its challenging for people who are living in hospital who may be in difficult health situations -maybe even at end of life – to ask them to quit at that point would be very challenging for them but we do need to make sure that if they are going to be using substance that they do so without impacting other patients and staff.”