Cook County to ban smoking on all hospital grounds

Cook County government’s medical system will ban smoking entirely at all its hospitals and clinics in November, stubbing out outdoor smoking on its properties, officials said Wednesday.

Smoking has long been banned inside hospitals and clinics, but it now will be forbidden on all land owned by the Cook County Health and Hospitals System.

County Board President Todd Stroger, who announced the new policy in front of Stroger Hospital with system officials, lauded the decision to make the grounds smoke-free.

“I think it’s important as a health institution that we lead by example,” Stroger said. “You can’t promote a healthy lifestyle without having a healthy environment.”

The ban will go into effect along with the American Cancer Society’s annual Great American Smokeout on Nov. 19.

There was a mixed reaction to the new policy among people standing outside Stroger Hospital to get their nicotine fix.

“They’re taking it too far,” said unit secretary Barbara Pierson, a hospital employee for 28 years. “We’re at least 15 feet from the door. Don’t you think that’s far enough?”

But there seemed to be a stronger sense of guilt among smokers visiting Stroger for care or to visit loved ones. Karen Hutton of Memphis is staying in an apartment across the street from Stroger while her husband, Gregory, recovers from a car crash. Her levels of smoking are connected to how stressed she feels, she said.

“Every time I get close and I think, ‘Enough is enough,’ something tragic happens,” said Hutton, whose smoking reached a pack and a half a day when her husband was first hospitalized. “Then I’m like, ‘OK, as soon as I get through this, I’m gonna put it down.’ ”

Doctors praised the decision.

“There are people who are very sensitive to smoke, and if you’re coming in for treatment and you have to pass through a smoke cloud, it doesn’t help at all,” said Dr. Wickii Vigneswaran, a professor of surgery at the University of Chicago and member of the American College of Chest Physicians.

One reason leaders of the county’s health system announced the change so far in advance is to let the system’s employees know about options to help them quit smoking in advance of the ban.

Employees who are caught smoking on the grounds after Nov. 19 will be referred to their supervisors for counseling and corrective action.

The system also includes Provident Hospital, Oak Forest Hospital, the Cook County Department of Public Health, Cermak Health Services, the Ruth Rothstein CORE Center and 16 Ambulatory and Community Health Network centers.

© Copyright: Chicagotribune

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