Hospital smoking ban labelled 'torture'

MICHELLE ROBINSON
Last updated 12:36 20/05/2013

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A mental health patient who killed himself was put off seeking hospital treatment because he was not allowed to smoke onsite, a lawyer leading a judicial review application on smoking in hospitals says.

A smoking ban on hospital grounds including outside psychiatric wards by the Waitemata District Health Board is a breach of human rights, barrister Richard Francois argued at the High Court at Auckland today.

He is calling the proposal "torture" on the hospitals' most vulnerable patients.

"Psychiatric patients are segregated," Francois said in his opening statement.

"They're locked in a room and told they can't smoke cigarettes in a time they're under extreme stress, have been hauled away from family, friends and employment."

He argues that research does not back up the need for psychiatric patients to give up smoking on hospital grounds for their health or the health of others, and is simply a breach of rights which will create a barrier for patients wanting to seek help.

He raised an example of a Hillmorton Hospital patient in Christchurch who used to self-refer himself to the psychiatric ward after attempting suicide.

His mother had said he "quite liked" being there but this changed after a smoking ban came in, Francois said, reading from a Coroner's report.

"He killed himself this time. Smoking was everything to him, it was like the be all and end all of it really."

He extended his application against severely incapacitated patients in the general ward too, who should be allowed a room to smoke in since they can't take themselves outside, he said.

Francois' client was previously also in this category, he said.

"It's discrimination, the sicker you are," Francois said.

Waitemata DHB already complied with legislation under the Smokefree Amendment Act which states organisations may allow smoking to take place in specified rooms or outside.

Only schools and kindergartens were stipulated by law in bans being allowed on grounds. Hospitals were not included, he said.

Francois questioned the motivation of the ban, saying it could set a precedent for the rest of the country.

He cited research in a international Cochrane Collaboration report and by Jodi Prochaska from the Center of Tobacco Control Research at Stanford University to argue that banning psychiatric patients from smoking had little long-term effect.

The latter study on psychiatric patients found all failed to give up smoking long term after a time of abstinence, Francois said.

"Psychiatric patients are even more unmotivated than the rest of the community."

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He also referred to research which showed two metres was all that was needed to prevent harm from second-hand smoke in outdoor locations.

The review application hearing continues.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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