A councillor for Ward 3 wants the city to ask the local hospital to build a smoking area, an idea Algoma Public Health says would be a step backwards from the work done to date to create a smoke-free property.
Matthew Shoemaker, councillor for Ward 3, would like the Sault Area Hospital (SAH) to reverse a ban against smoking anywhere on hospital property, which has been in effect since 2011.
At issue for Shoemaker is one location hospital staff and patients now go to smoke since being banned from doing so on SAH property.
“Sault Area Hospital sort of blanketly banned smoking on their property, which means people go to other properties. The easiest other property to go to is the Hub Trail, so the properties that border on the hub trail constantly have people in their backyard smoking,” said Shoemaker by phone today.
Shoemaker said he has heard from many in his ward who are concerned with the increase of smoking activity in the Cedar Heights and Foxborough areas that he says are a result of the hospital ban.
In June, fire officials requested smokers ensure they properly butt their cigarettes after they extinguished a ‘medium-sized’ fire on the Hub Trail adjacent to the hospital property, but they stopped short of blaming the blaze on cigarettes.
The proposed resolution, which will be considered at an upcoming meeting of city council, says the city of Sault Ste. Marie is to request the Sault Area Hospital create a smoking area within its own property.
Janet Allen, public health nurse and tobacco control co-ordinator for Algoma Public Health (APH), said even if the hospital decided to comply with the request, the Smoke Free Ontario Act would compel all hospital properties in the province to be smoke-free by Jan. 1, 2018.
“Sault Area Hospital is that much further ahead of the game, so I think any steps to move in a backwards direction would have a negative effect and be confusing to the public, who are now well familiar that the hospital is smoke-free,” said Allen.
Shoemaker thinks other communities will run into the same problem of smokers using adjacent properties to puff once the provincial ban goes into effect.
“I don’t think the blanket ban is the way to go and if the provincial government is doing it I don’t think that’s the way they should go, either. It’s only going to cause problems on city property or other properties,” said Shoemaker.
Allen notes all hospitals in the Algoma region are already smoke-free, including St. Joseph’s General Hospital in Elliot Lake, Blind River District Health Centre and Lady Dunn Health Centre in Wawa.
The Smoke Free Ontario Act is part of the province's long-term strategy to reduce tobacco use and lower health risks to smokers and non-smokers in Ontario.
According to the province's statistics, tobacco claims 13,000 lives each year and tobacco-related disease costs's the health care system an estimated $2.2-billion in direct care.
Ontario's smoking rate went from 24.5 per cent in 2000 to 17.4 per cent in 2014, a reduction of over 400,000 smokers.
Asked by SooToday why the city doesn't create a smoking area on the Hub Trail adjacent to the hospital, Shoemaker responded, "we shouldn't have to."
The smoking ban on SAH property went into effect shortly after the new hospital opened in 2011, when the municipal bylaw was amended to prohibit smoking on the property.
The bylaw is enforced by SAH security staff and APH enforcement officers.
A ban against smoking along the Hub Trail was considered by city council in 2012, but deemed unenforceable by the city’s legal staff.
According to the Sault Area Hospital web site, fines for smoking on hospital property start at $255, with APH enforcement officers and hospital security routinely patrolling the grounds and utilizing video surveillance to catch offenders of the bylaw in the act.