TAMPA — As his wife received treatment for lung cancer Monday at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer & Research Institute, Jerome Williams, 64, slipped outside for a few moments.
For a cigarette.
But Williams was one of the last to do so. Starting today, Moffitt goes smoke-free. Cigarettes will be banned not only from inside the hospital, but from the hospital's entire campus.
"There is such a major tie to health problems with tobacco use that I think it's good for us to be a leader in this area," said Nick Porter, Moffitt's executive vice president of administration.
Moffitt is one of the first large hospitals in Tampa Bay to go completely smoke-free. Bayfront Medical Center banned cigarettes several years ago, as did Community Hospital in New Port Richey in 2006.
But most of Tampa Bay's large hospitals now allow smoking outside their buildings, most in a few designated areas. Among those that do: Tampa General, St. Joseph's, All Children's, Morton Plant, St. Anthony's and James A. Haley VA Medical Center.
But Moffitt isn't the only hospital changing. Hospitals across the country are cracking down on smoking, said Rick Wade, senior vice president for the American Hospital Association.
"This is something that is literally sweeping across the country, where they're trying to get smoking out of the campus," he said.
The group hasn't tracked how many hospitals have made the move, but it's increasingly popular, Wade said.
Officials at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg are now considering going entirely smoke-free when their new hospital opens late next year a few blocks from the current site.
Banning cigarettes isn't as easy as it sounds. Leaders at Tampa General have discussed it at length, but so far have decided to keep some smoking areas.
"We have a lot of people in very stressful situations, and while we may disagree, smoking is a way for people to cope with stressful situations," said spokesman John Dunn. "Given the nature of what goes on here every day, it's not a decision we make lightly."
All Children's executives have the same worries as they discuss what to do at the new hospital.
"Logic tells you, yes, that you should do it," said spokeswoman Cindy Rose. "It's a very difficult thing from a parent standpoint though, if your child is critically ill, and you can't go smoke a cigarette someplace."
That's the way Holiday resident Cathy Meadows reacted Monday, as she sat on a bench outside Moffitt, with a cigarette in her hand and daughter Jamie Kendrick, 17, sitting beside her.
"Outside, there's enough ventilation," she said. "There are a lot of people who smoke, and we should have rights as well."
She pointed to her daughter, at Moffitt for radiation treatment for a brain tumor.
"There are lots of things that can cause cancer," Meadows said. "She's never smoked in her life."
But Thomas H. Brandon, director of Moffitt's Tobacco Research and Intervention Program, said Moffitt has had other complaints.
"We've had patients telling us they thought it was hypocritical to allow smoking in a cancer center," he said.
Moffitt has posted large signs around its campus, telling people the change is coming. The center also has offered smoking cessation classes to employees.
Someone who wants to smoke now can walk to the sidewalk in front of the hospital, because it's public right of way. The smoking areas at the front and back of the hospital, as well as the one at the clinic entrance, will be removed.
Moffitt workers will give anyone found smoking a card explaining that Moffitt is tobacco-free and giving phone numbers to two quit lines. But, Porter said, "We're not going to be calling the sheriff" if someone refuses to stop.
That all sounds fine to Williams, a retired New York police detective who still carries his ID, even though he lives in St. Augustine. Since his wife was diagnosed, he's cut back from two packs a day to one-third of a pack. Every push toward quitting helps, he said.
"I think it's the greatest thing in the world," Williams said of Moffitt's decision. "I think you need that environment."
Then Williams put out his cigarette and left the smoking area.
Lisa Greene can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3322.