Yellowknife hospital grounds to go tobacco free on Feb. 14, 2012, Hay River plans to do the same

Hay River Hospital will be following Yellowknife’s lead in months to come by making the entire property smoke-free, with hopefully fewer smokers to banish to the curb.

The Stanton Territorial Health Authority has set Valentine’s as the day to mandate a 100 per cent tobacco-free environment on hospital grounds. 

The plans for Hay River Health and Social Services Authority to go tobacco free are still in the works. 

“The last three months of 2011 we’ve started to put things into motion,” said HRHSSA CEO Sue Cullen. “It’s a wellness approach for sure, but also a great opportunity to partner with other organizations to go smoke free.”

The territory has one of the highest rate of tobacco use in the country—double the national average at 36 per cent.

This means that tobacco users who find themselves unwell in hospital could face added stress if they chose to forgo their smoke break, or decided to make the trip during extreme weather conditions.

In 2002 the GNWT launched the Action on Tobacco initiative to tackle the high rate of smoking in the territory, what was referred to as an acute public health concern.

The program was evaluated in 2005. Now 36 per cent of the NWT population smokes, compared to 42 per cent of citizens over the age of 17 in 1999.

“Rates of smoking are still fairly high,” said Cullen. “We need to give enough lead time to engage and educate people in a wellness approach. We will have to be armed with how we approach the situation.”

Approaching the situation would involve education, alternatives for those patients who choose to continue to smoke, and perhaps following the Stanton program’s initiative include smoking cessation and nicotine replacement therapies.

Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the Northwest Territories.

As the largest health care facility in the territory, STHA has an opportunity to make a strong statement about the dangers of tobacco use and the health risks associated with even minimal exposure to second-hand smoke. It has a responsibility to encourage a culture of healthy living.

Both territorial hospitals are following suit of health authorities, hospitals and health care facilities across Canada that have gone smoke free.

Promoting wellness, prevention and lessening the effects of second hand smoke for staff, patients and public are among the reasoning behind the move.

But both authorities also acknowledge the responsibility to those who are addicted to nicotine products and vow to offer support and help to tackle their addictions.

“We are doing a great job at treating diseases caused by tobacco, but what are we doing to prevent them,” asked Stanton Territorial Hospital CEO Kay Lewis. “The new policy sends a clear message that tobacco use has no place in an institution dedicated to healing.”

Cullen said that there are smoking cessation programs currently available and it would be ideal if people chose to access them, but the emphasis of the program is not only to get people to quit.

“We are one of the later jurisdictions to move to tobacco free,” said Cullen. “You want to make sure you’ve thought everything through. Stanton has been working on their initiative over the last 18 months and we want to springboard from the good work they have done.”