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Residents of St. Petersburg nursing home protest smoking rules

Published Jan. 16, 2013

ST. PETERSBURG — As protests go, this was small and rather smoky.

About 20 residents of a St. Petersburg nursing home lit up in the courtyard Tuesday to protest a new smoking policy that takes away their cigarettes and cuts back on smoking hours.

The Shore Acres Rehabilitation and Health Center changed its policy Tuesday, requiring smokers to turn over their packs and lighters.

Staff members will then accompany residents on nine scheduled 20-minute smoke breaks, with a two-cigarette limit per break.

Nursing home officials said the move was necessary for safety, but some residents say they are being treated like children.

"My mother told me not to smoke," said Tom Ahlers, a 63-year-old resident. "She stole my cigarettes since I was 18 years old. Since then, I've made my own decisions."

Suresh Pai, nursing home administrator, said the policy was changed after several recent problems, including ashes burning residents' legs.

"If nobody's there to watch them, that creates a safety hazard," he said. "They could drop ashes on themselves. They could burn themselves. They could light themselves on fire."

Pai also expressed concern about liability.

Ultimately, he said, the decision also was influenced by a letter from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, detailing how a resident of another nursing home died when her cigarette set her clothing afire.

Residents who break these rules could be asked to leave the facility, he said.

Edward Masters, a 53-year-old resident, acknowledged smoking can cause problems but said it also provides personal pleasures.

"We've only got a few years left," he said. "It's our choice. It's been our choice for 30-some years now."

Meredith Rutland can be contacted at mrutland@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8804.

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