PORTLAND – Workers have begun dismantling the smoking area outside Maine Medical Center in anticipation of a smoking ban that will take effect on the hospital’s campus at the end of this week.

The fence that enclosed the area in a parking lot has been taken down. The benches have been removed. By Tuesday, all that remained was a trash can and a handful of smokers gathered on a section of yellow pavement.

By Friday, the trash can — and the smokers — will be gone.

The ban prohibits smoking on sidewalks adjacent to the hospital, in hospital parking lots and within 50 feet of the building’s doorways and windows. Employees will be required to be “fragrance free,” which means their clothes should not smell like smoke, according to the hospital’s new policy.

The ban applies to all of Maine Med’s facilities, including its campuses on Brighton Avenue, in Scarborough and in Falmouth. And it applies to patients, visitors and contracted workers.

On Tuesday, smokers weren’t pleased with the policy.

For people who are addicted to nicotine, smoking has a calming effect, said Darlene English, 48, a New Hampshire resident who was visiting a relative at the hospital.

“I know how irritated you get without a cigarette,” said English, who puffed on one in the smoking area. “The nurses will be stressed and irritable. Patient care will suffer for it. Nobody wants an angry nurse.”

Gary Bergeron, who works in the hospital’s Environmental Services Department, said he’ll have to get into his car and drive somewhere just to smoke. He said the ban will leave more cigarette butts littering city streets.

He said there’s no justification for the new policy, and that the hospital should stay out of his personal life.

“I am the one who should be concerned for my health,” Bergeron said. “They should not be concerned about it.”

The smokers are up against a major trend, though.

Nationally, 76 percent of hospitals have smoke-free campuses, said Barbara Perry, a nurse and program manager for Maine Med’s inpatient tobacco treatment program.

In Maine, 26 of the 39 hospitals have smoke-free campuses, including Mercy Hospital in Portland, Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, Goodall Hospital in Sanford, MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta and Waterville, and Parkview Adventist Medical Center in Brunswick.

The ban is intended to prevent the health risks associated with secondhand smoke, Perry said.

“This is not about the smoker,” she said. “This is about health and safety for everybody.” The ban will help patients and workers who want to quit smoking, she said, because the sight of others smoking acts as a “trigger.”

Although hospitals in Maine began banning smoking 10 years ago, it’s significant that the state’s largest hospital is now doing it because it will set an example for other hospitals and companies, said Sarah Mayberry, director of the Maine Tobacco-Free Hospital Network, a state-funded public health program in Portland’s Department of Public Health.

If a large employer like Maine Med can implement the policy, others will follow, Mayberry said.

“It reduces the barrier and makes it a little less scary,” she said.

 

Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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Twitter: TomBellPortland“The nurses will be stressed and irritable. Patient care will suffer for it. Nobody wants an angry nurse.”

DARLENE ENGLISH

Maine Medical Center visitor