BROOKSVILLE — While his girlfriend was inside visiting her mother, Gary Yurmann ducked outside the entrance of Brooksville Regional Hospital Wednesday morning for a quick smoke.
A longtime smoker, he said that puffing on a cigarette helped to relieve the stress of having a loved one in the hospital.
Starting today however, he'll have to find another way to satisfy his craving. From now on, cigarettes, cigars, pipes, even smokeless tobacco products are no-nos in Hernando County health facilities.
The adoption of the Citrus/Hernando Tobacco-Free Community Initiative is geared toward promoting better health among employees and residents in health facilities and departments in both counties, as well as the Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Hudson.
Although smoking has long been banned inside area hospitals, the new initiative is designed to provide a safe, clean environment for patients, workers and visitors both inside and outside the hospital structure, according to Oak Hill Hospital spokesman Rich Linkul.
"It's not about trying to get people to quit smoking," Linkul said. "They're welcome to do it if they want, just not on hospital property."
Although the policy is new, Linkul said that the hospital began readying employees for the ban several months ago. About 100 employees and family members showed up to a tobacco-free fair that focused on providing information on smoking cessation programs.
"We know it's a hard habit to break, so we tried to keep it as positive as possible," Linkul said.
The new ban applies to all employees, volunteers, visitors, patients and vendors. Not only will the designated smoking areas disappear, but people will be prohibited from smoking even in their own vehicles in parking lots.
According to the state Department of Health, nearly 27 percent of Hernando County residents smoke, higher than the state average of 19.3 percent.
While linked to heart disease, cancer, stroke and lung disease, on average 88 Floridians die each day from these smoking-related diseases.
Brooksville Regional Hospital spokeswoman Robin Schneider said that for now enforcement will likely involve polite reminders of the hospital's tobacco-free policy. Security staffers will hand out literature and tell visitors that they need to leave the grounds in order to smoke.
"We're hopeful that once the message gets around, people will understand that it's for the best for everyone," Schneider said.