BRANDON — Embracing a growing trend, Brandon Regional Hospital no longer allows the use of cigarettes and other tobacco products on its grounds.
The new rule, which went into effect today, comes at the behest of the hospital's employee advisory group, board of trustees and medical staff executive committee.
"As a health care facility, we've got to be a better role model in promoting the health and wellness of the community we serve," said Mike Fencel, the hospital's chief executive. "So we decided that now is the time to take a position relative to the use of tobacco products."
Until today, Brandon Regional had three designated outside smoking areas. However, enough smokers ignored those guidelines, Fencel said, that it became one of the factors in eliminating tobacco use all together.
"After a while, employees, including myself, get tired (of) those who simply ignore the designated areas," he said.
The new guidelines ban tobacco use everywhere on hospital property, including inside cars. It also applies to the Brandon Medical Center, east of the hospital on Parsons Avenue, as well as hospital office buildings on Oakfield Drive.
A handful of other area hospitals have taken the same measure in recent years, and several plan to do so in the future.
All three Tampa locations of St. Joseph's Hospital and Plant City's South Florida Baptist Hospital, all owned by BayCare Health System, have plans to go tobacco free in 2011, a spokeswoman said.
Officials at Tampa General Hospital, University Community Hospital (Tampa) and South Bay Hospital (Sun City Center), which have designated smoking areas, said discussions to prohibit tobacco use are ongoing.
In 2008, the Pasco County Health Department helped pass a countywide initiative ridding tobacco use at hospitals. A spokesman at Morton Plant North Bay Hospital in New Port Richey said things have gone smoothly thanks to communication and education.
The Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa went tobacco free in April 2008. Barry Asch, an administrator who served on Moffitt's tobacco-free committee, said the cancer center hasn't had any major incidents under the policy. There are, though, some who ignore the rule and others who know just how to go around it.
"There are people who know exactly where the campus ends," Asch said. "People stand right at the curb and smoke, and there's nothing we can say or do about it."
Fencel said in the beginning, he expects some smokers to walk off Brandon Regional's property to light up. But he thinks that will die down with time.
In addition to a meal break, employees usually get two 15-minute breaks, which some use to go outside and smoke. Under the new policy, workers will have to clock out if they want to leave the hospital, Fencel said.
Laurie Smith, a smoker who works in housekeeping, said she thinks the tobacco ban is fair. She has been planning to quit anyway.
"Now, if I have a very hectic day I may go for a quick drive around the block," said Smith, 30. "But it's not something I plan on doing."
Some patients who are able to leave their rooms might be tempted to walk off the property to smoke.
"What other option is there," asked Julie Fernandez, a patient who was smoking outside the hospital on a recent afternoon. "You don't want to get in trouble. You don't want to violate their rule."
Fernandez, 47, was hospitalized at Brandon Regional for complications from diabetes.
About two months ago, signs started popping up around Brandon Regional, notifying tobacco users of the change. The hospital is offering its staff smoking cessation classes. Fencel estimates about 20 percent use tobacco.
Separately, patients can receive nicotine withdrawal replacement aids with a doctor's order.
After speaking with colleagues at hospitals that have already taken this step, Fencel said he anticipates a high level of compliance. He said staff will be persistent, but not confrontational, with violators.
"Those people who simply are going to refuse, we'll deal with in an appropriate and professional, respectful manner," he said. "But we'll deal with it. We're not going to avoid it."
Kevin Smetana can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2439.