Doctors' warnings against smoking will soon be more than just clinical advice.
Starting next summer, employees, visitors and patients at Duke University Medical Center and Duke University Health System facilities will no longer be permitted to smoke on the institutes' premises.
DUMC and DUHS announced Tuesday that they will join 48 other North Carolina medical institutions that have decided to make their grounds smoke-free. University of North Carolina Health Care, Rex Healthcare and WakeMed are also among those institutions.
"Our first priority is the health and well-being of our patients, employees and the communities we serve, and actions speak louder than words," said Victor Dzau, chancellor for health affairs and president and CEO of DUHS, in a statement Tuesday.
A task force hired by Duke will work to enforce the new policy, which the four hospital systems will fully enforce by July 4, 2007. Currently, smokers have access to designated outside smoking areas. In upcoming months, a committee will work to explore the logistics of the new policy-including sign placement, property boundaries, training of staff and smoking cessation options for staff.
Since 2003, when the first hospitals nationwide implemented such policies, smoke-free institutions have sprung up across the United States.
Duke's program will follow the lead of previously implemented policies, providing employees with smoking cessation tools, such as nicotine patches and treatment programs.
As of Tuesday, DUHS and DUMC employees-including those not eligible for benefits-were given access to a number of smoking cessation resources, which will expand in upcoming months.
Resources will eventually include discounts and subsidies for various additional nicotine replacement products, said George Jackson, associate clinical professor at the Employee Occupational Health and Wellness clinic.
When DUHS banned indoor smoking in 1989, the number of employees who were smokers declined, said Steve Smith, chief human resources officer for Duke Medicine, who spearheaded the change.
Smith added that he expects the increased restrictions on smoking to have a similar effect at Duke and across the nation.
Many visitors and employees at Duke Hospital, however, said smoking in secluded areas should be a personal choice.
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"This is an invasion of privacy," said Kelly Townsend of Hampton, Va., who was visiting her husband. "You could be doing a lot worse when you have relatives in the hospital-smoking is my vice right now."
Employees said the ban would have mixed results on the smoking habits of individuals in the medical center community.
Cheryl Gentry, a patient service associate at Duke Hospital, said she felt only employees who already plan to quit smoking would take advantage of smoking cessation programs.
"This is great for the non-smokers-they love it," Gentry said. "For... those who don't [stop smoking], we'll just be evil people."