BETHESDA – Visitors to Montgomery and Frederick County hospitals might want to leave their tin of dip and pack of cigarettes at home starting Thursday.
Six hospitals in the two counties have banned visitors from not only smoking indoors, but from stepping outside to have a smoke. Their new policy prohibits the use of tobacco products on the outside grounds by all visitors, employees and patients.
The hospitals are Frederick Memorial, Holy Cross, Montgomery General, Shady Grove Adventist, Suburban and Washington Adventist.
The ban extends to cars and trucks on the hospital grounds and any sidewalks and streets within hospital boundaries.
Montgomery County officials called the collaborative effort an extraordinary accomplishment in tobacco control.
“It’s a victory for hospital employees,” said Uma Ahluwalia, Montgomery County Health and Human Services director. “It’s also a victory for patients and their families.”
Speakers at a news conference here to announce the new policies credited hospitals for encouraging citizens to kick the tobacco habit.
“There is growing momentum in Maryland to stop smoking,” said Cal Pierson, president of the Maryland Hospital Association. “And that’s a good thing. Hospitals are leading the way.”
Smoking is already prohibited inside the hospitals.
The hospitals have enlisted the Mayo Clinic to train employees to counsel fellow employees and patients having trouble complying with the new policy, Pierson said.
“It’s not an easy issue for many people who have this addiction,” said Brian Gragnolati, chief executive officer of Suburban Hospital.
Hospital officials acknowledged that some employees might quit because of the new rule.
“I don’t know,” Gragnolati said when asked about potential employee losses. “But hopefully the way we approached this . . . will help that number be zero for all of us.”
Rosemary Mortimer, Maryland Nurses Association president, said she expected a positive reaction from her membership.
“My sense is that nurses certainly have reduced their smoking since I got out of school (the early 70s),” Mortimer said. “Nurses will say that they saw it coming and this is really not a surprise. There will be some people who won’t be pleased with it, but I think it will be greeted positively overall.”
About 20 percent of employees at hospitals smoke, Gragnolati estimated, but numbers vary by hospital.
The ban coincides with the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, a program aimed at showing the benefits of not smoking by encouraging smokers to quit for 24 hours.
Second-hand smoking causes 35,000-45,000 deaths per year from heart disease and another 3,000 from lung cancer in non-smokers, according to the American Lung Association.
It also “robs” the nation of $2 billion in health care costs that could be used in other areas, Pierson said.
The hospitals said they hope the initiative will have influence beyond their grounds.
“If we can affect people’s behavior at our institutions that’s great,” said Kevin Sexton, chief executive officer of Holy Cross Hospital. “But we want to have an impact beyond that.”