Until Augusta Health made it public that its campus had gone smoke-free this summer, it hadn’t registered with me that the regional hospital had been effectively facilitating smoking all these years by allowing employees to take smoke breaks on the clock and setting up designated smoking areas for visitors outside.
Turns out it’s not as easy as you’d think for a hospital to go smoke-free.
“For people who have smoked for many years, it’s part of their persona. You don’t know what goes on at home. You don’t know what goes on in their social life. It’s such a piece. It’s a coping mechanism that people have used for years. Having compassion for that, understanding for that, is a big piece of this,” said Dana Breeding, a health educator in the Community Wellness department at Augusta Health, who first proposed the move to a smoke-free hospital a decade ago.
Breeding finally got the go-ahead to move forward with a plan of action toward a smoke-free Augusta Health in 2007. The approach focused on helping the estimated 400-450 Augusta Health employees who are smokers through the issues they would have to deal with regarding the change and also working with patients and visitors through their issues.
Both populations have been and are being given access to nicotine-replacement and smoking-cessation programs.
“We’re not saying that the person has to quit. We’re not saying they can’t smoke. We’re saying they have to go off-campus to smoke,” Breeding said.
On the same day in August that Augusta Health went smoke-free, the popular South River Grill restaurant in Waynesboro went the same route, beating the requirement under a new state law that will have restaurants closing their smoking sections in December by four months.
“I think the fact that we did it a little early so smokers could transition to using our outside patio in the summer months was helpful. It helped ease our customers into that transition. But come winter, when everybody has to do it, it’s not like they can say they’re going to go somewhere else, because we all have to do it,” South River Grill manager Melissa Johnson said.
The response from patrons has been almost entirely positive, Johnson said.
“Before we’d have some people coming in the door, smell the smoke, because we had a lot of smokers, and turn around at the door. So we’ve gained from that from people not leaving because of that,” Johnson said.
“The smokers seem OK with it because we still have the alternative of the patio, and the weather is still good, and they can still go out there. So the bar crowd at night, we haven’t really seen any changes there, except that more of it is out on the patio,” Johnson said.