MID-CITY — For years, expecting fathers at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center & Orthopaedic Hospital have been forced to chomp on cigars made of bubble gum or chocolate instead of lighting up those made with tobacco.
Smoking inside the hospital has been off limits for at least a decade, hospital officials said. On Thursday, that ban was expanded to cover the entire UCLA health system.
Timed to coincide with the 36th Annual Great American Smokeout, the new policy will apply to all indoor and outdoor areas of the hospitals and health sciences campuses in Westwood and Santa Monica, and along Charles E. Young Drive South’s research corridor at UCLA.
“Our purpose is to heal humankind one patient at a time by improving health, alleviating suffering and delivering acts of kindness. Establishing a smoke-free environment within the UCLA Health System is an extension of that philosophy,” said Dr. David Feinberg, CEO of the health system and associate vice chancellor for health sciences. “As a renowned research, education and health care–delivery institution, we must lead by example to protect the health and well-being of our faculty, staff, students, trainees, volunteers, patients and their families and to prevent disease.”
Nearly 500,000 Americans die each year from tobacco-related causes, and in California, nearly 10 percent of the population smokes, said Dr. Timothy Fong, an associate professor of psychiatry at UCLA and a member of UCLA’s smoke-free transition team.
“Among healthcare providers, we know that 5 to 10 percent of physicians and nurses smoke,” Fong said. “Thus, the move toward a smoke-free environment is the right thing to do to create a healthier and cleaner place for UCLA patients and employees to work, live and heal.”
Educational materials on smoking cessation will be available for patients, families and staff, and information will be provided on how to manage nicotine withdrawal in the hospital setting. Referrals to local smoking-cessation programs will also be available, UCLA officials said.
UCLA Smoke-Free Champions will be available, on an ongoing basis, for the following services:
• Providing live training to UCLA faculty and staff about evidence-based treatments for smoking cessation and tips on how to maintain a smoke-free environment.
• Providing educational resources, materials and referrals to anyone interested in smoking cessation.
• Serving as an advocate to speak with patients and their families about the UCLA smoke-free policy and smoking-cessation programs.
In Santa Monica, restricting smoking is nothing new. City Hall has one of the most far-reaching bans on smoking, prohibiting the practice on the Santa Monica Pier, at city parks, at bus stops, in outdoor dining areas, as well as within 20 feet of an entrance to a public building.
Even so, patients, visitors and staff at Santa Monica-UCLA still smoke right outside entrances and in designated smoking areas, which sends the wrong message, said Dr. Denise Sur, the hospital’s chief of staff and vice chair in the Department of Family Medicine.
“The message we intend to deliver is that there is never any time that smoking is OK,” she said. “We want people to know that smoking is not OK and that we have lots of ways to help you stop.”
By having designated smoking areas, Sur said the hospital was helping people smoke. By banning the habit, UCLA could be helping patients and staff kick it.
“If a patient can go three days without smoking while in the hospital, perhaps that can help in the transition [to being a non-smoker],” Sur said.
Dr. Susan Sprau, an attending physician at Santa Monica-UCLA, welcomes the change. A former smoker, Sprau said she cannot stand being exposed to secondhand smoke. For one she doesn’t like the smell. Then there are the adverse health effects.
“People will be smoking right outside the doorway of some of the buildings and you can smell the smoke. You are walking right through it and you know you are inhaling secondhand smoke,” she said. “I think [the ban] will help improve the working environment and people’s health.”
The policy change isn’t punitive, Fong said, but rather part of an educational effort. There will be no fines or citations issued, but employees caught smoking where they shouldn’t may receive a reprimand.
“When I was growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, ashtrays were a decorative item,” she said. ‘Everybody had to have a piece of art for their ashtrays. That was only a generation ago. Now, thank heaven, we are going in the direction we should be. There’s no reason to have tobacco.”
For more information on smoking cessation and the new smoke-free policy, visit the UCLA Smoke-Free Resource Center at www.uclahealth.org/smokefree.