BROOKSVILLE — No cigarettes, cigars, pipes and smokeless tobacco. Come Jan. 1, all five hospital campuses in Hernando and Citrus counties will be completely tobacco-free.
The rule will apply not just to employees, volunteers and vendors, but to patients and visitors.
Under the Citrus/Hernando Tobacco-Free Community Initiative, health facilities and departments in both counties — as well as the Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Hudson — have joined efforts to promote better health among employees and residents.
The goal eventually is to incorporate other public properties, such as courthouses, into the no-smoking program.
Currently, no tobacco products are allowed by anyone inside the buildings on any of the six campuses. After Jan. 1, not only will the designated smoking areas disappear, people will not be allowed to light up in their vehicles if they are parked on hospital or health department property.
"We're not suggesting that people don't smoke," said Ann-Gayl Ellis, spokeswoman for the Hernando Health Department. "But if they want to, they will have to leave the premises."
There will be "soft enforcement'' at the outset, she explained, such as handing out cards and literature about the program. Stricter enforcement could follow.
While the Hernando Health Department is part of the program, it won't become tobacco-free until a new Spring Hill site is constructed in the near future. The department currently shares its office on Forest Oaks Boulevard with businesses.
In the meantime, the groups will publicize the change and move toward what they hope is a smooth transition by the end of the year. But they anticipate complaints.
"We're looking forward to a positive but challenging six months ahead," Ellis said. "We will certainly have disgruntled people to deal with."
She acknowledged that people visiting patients at hospitals typically are in anxious circumstances, "and we don't want to add to their stress.'' The hope is that the program and hospital workers can tell them about healthier options to relieve their stress.
For those who do want to stop, free smoking-cessation programs will be available for both employees and their families, officials said. Residents also have access to such programs from local health departments.
By moving forward with the initiative at the same time, health care facilities in both counties hope to stir a movement for better health among residents by providing a model.
They also dodge the possibility of employees or patrons heading to a neighboring county so they can use tobacco.
"It's a huge movement, across the country and in Florida alone," said Rich Linkul, spokesman for Oak Hill Hospital. "There are over 50 (hospitals and nursing homes) in Florida who have gone this route. As innovators and leaders in health care, this is the right thing to do in our community at the right time."
According to the state Department of Health, 25.7-percent of Citrus residents and 27-percent of Hernando residents smoke. Both figures are higher than the 19.3-percent state average.
Linkul said the number of hospital employees who smoke tracks the state average.
While linked to heart disease, cancer, stroke and lung disease, on average 88 Floridians die each day from these smoking-related diseases.
Numbers from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids showed that in 2005, $6.32-billion was spent on annual health care costs in the state directly caused by smoking.
An added bonus will be watching costs affiliated with smoking decrease in the next few years, said Anne Black, a tobacco prevention specialist in Citrus. That includes property and medical insurance.
"There are so many reasons to do something like this," Black said. "It's pro-health and not anti-tobacco."
Chandra Broadwater can be reached at email@example.com, or (352) 848-1432.