Smoking ban to extend to county hospitals

  • By Alex Parker
  • Staff Writer
  • August 06, 2009 @ 8:22 AM

Need a smoke break at Stroger Hospital?

You’d better get your fill before Nov. 19. That’s when all county health system facilities will become smoke-free.

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger and Cook County Health and Hospital System CEO William Foley announced yesterday the plan to ban smoking from county health system premises, saying it will improve the health of employees and patients, while saving the county money on health care costs.

“We wanted the public and the community to know that quality health care and a healthy environment begins when you come to our property, and as a health care system we certainly think that is fitting for our system,” Foley said at a press conference outside Stroger Hospital.

The ban coincides with the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout, and Foley says it will help the health system set an example for Cook County residents.

Joel Africk, president and CEO of the Respiratory Health Association of Greater Chicago, says his organization will work with the county to help employees quit smoking, though that is optional. Employees will have access to counselors and other smoking cessation tools, and Stroger said this program will be paid for in part by the county’s tobacco settlement winnings.

“These types of steps make it easier for people to quit smoking succeed in their efforts,” Africk said.

Cindy Wilson, an ex-smoker who underwent a lung transplant in October, said navigating smoky sidewalks exacerbates her condition.

“One of the things that worries me is going through the (smoky) walkways,” she said. “Unless you’re dealing with a respiratory issue, you really wouldn’t realize what effect second-hand smoke has on people.”

Smoking is already banned at county facilities, and Chicago banned smoking at restaurants and bars in 2007.

Dr. Robert Cohen, chief of pulmonary medicine for the county, estimated that about 20 percent of county health system employees smoke.

He says the “gauntlet” of smokers people must navigate to enter health facilities promotes the wrong image.

“To have that kind of exposure is absolutely contrary to everything we stand for,” he says.

And where will smokers go to once the ban is in effect?

“They’ll have to find another place other than our campus to smoke,” Cohen said. “That’s not really our responsibility to help them find a place to smoke. We’re really going to mainly focus on helping them stop smoking.”

Stroger Hospital employees corralled in the smoking areas expressed ambivalence at the ban, which the Daily News reported on in April. Two hospital employees said more attention should be paid to getting patients treatment and keeping the hospital clean.

Daily News Staff Writer Alex Parker covers public health. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 17, or alex [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.