Indianapolis hospitals not always enforcing no-smoking policy


Last summer, a statewide smoking ban took effect across Indiana, while Indianapolis and several other cities moved to make their bans even tougher.

But it was hospitals that led the way, adopting strict smoke-free policies six and seven years ago. So, why was it so easy to find smokers lighting up on hospital campuses?

Over the course of three days, Eyewitness News found people smoking on the grounds of Wishard, Riley Hospital for Children, St Vincent, Community East and IU Methodist Hospitals, all of which have campus-wide smoke-free policies. That means anywhere on the hospital grounds, even in the parking.

The hospitals also display many prominent signs alerting people to the policy.

Gaige Anderson, a smoker, said, "I understand it. I mean honestly, I enjoy smoking but I know it's bad for me.

That's why Anderson and Charlie Allen, who were visiting a friend at Methodist, lit up on a city sidewalk along Capitol Avenue.

"We're on hospital grounds and there are sick people around and that's the last thing you need when you're sick is smoke and nicotine," said Allen.

Anderson agreed, "I don't need to subject people to my second-hand smoke, so I try to be courteous."

Yet we saw many others lighting up not far from hospital entrances, emergency rooms and even the no-smoking signs. Asked about enforcement, Allen said, "If you're going to set rules you should stick to your guns."

Miriam Oda-Moore, the smoking cessation specialist at Wishard, said they do.

"It's not just in name only. We do enforce it. If we see people smoking we tell them to put out the cigarette." said Oda-Moore.

But she added it's not always easy, especially when people are under stress.

"It's very difficult because you don't know what's going on in that person's life or why they're smoking or why they're smoking in front of the sign," she said.

"We know tobacco is a very addictive substance," said Katy Ellis with Smoke Free Indy.

But Ellis also said, "We have to remember this is a health issue. We do need to make sure we're protecting patients and visitors at the hospitals from the effects of second-hand smoke."

Spokespeople for IU Health and Riley, St. Vincent and Community all said they take the policy seriously. Security and other hospital personnel are told when they see people smoking to remind them of the policy and ask them to go off campus to light up.

It's tougher for employees, who are subject to disciplinary action if caught breaking the rules.

At Wishard, employees are prohibited from smoking not just on campus, but anywhere they're "visible" from hospital property whether that's just across 10th Street or at the adjacent Cancer Survivor's Park.

IU Health meantime adopted a policy in 2011 that prohibits employees from smoking anytime during their shifts, even during breaks away from the hospital grounds, because of "third-hand smoke" that seeps into clothes.

A spokesman said initial violations result in a written warning and referral to a voluntary tobacco cessation program. He said repeated violations can lead to termination, noting "a handful of employees have lost their jobs."

As for the sometimes blatant disregard by hospital visitors? Ellis said, "We know hospitals are continually looking at ways to enforce it better, but I would also say we as citizens need to do our part too not to smoke on hospital properties and if you see someone at a hospital, encourage them not to be smoking, point out they do have smoke-free policies."