Tobacco-Free Campus

I have been doing a lot of trainings at hospitals lately. Most every hospital I have trained at has a "no smoking" policy that extends to the hospital campus grounds. While hospital structures and buildings have been smoke-free for years, it's only been in the recent past that they have begun to enforce a tobacco-free policy for the entire campus. It's a policy that makes a lot of sense and one that I support. After all, hospitals are "health care" environments and insurance rates are probably more favorable as a result.


However, the inevitable problems have popped up as a result. As smokers have been asked to refrain from smoking indoors as a result of legislation in the past few years, they've compensated by stepping outside for a "smoke." Or they have retreated to the patios and gardens of these places to light up. It's only natural that they would think it OK to go outside of the hospital to have a cigarette. So, what is hospital staff (mostly security staff) to do when they come across people smoking on campus? Especially when the person refuses to put out the cigarette?


As they deal with a "refusal" behavior, they have the option of setting limits. Giving the smoker the choice of putting out the cigarette, or not, and then dealing with the consequences. But what consequence can be enforced for someone refusing to stop smoking? It really depends on the hospital. Security personnel have shared with me their frustration of not having any consequences they can enforce. They can't have the person arrested. That would not be reasonable. Escorting someone off the campus opens up a can of worms because going "hands-on" can lead to more serious behaviors. The smoker is truly not a danger to self or others in the immediate sense. The risk of the intervention outweighs the risk of the behavior in this case.


Following are a couple techniques that security staff have shared with me in the past few months. For the record, CPI is not necessarily endorsing these methods. We are only sharing with our readers what has been communicated to us recently. All individuals need to decide for themselves whether using these approaches is safe and supported by their facilities.


One method involves repeating the no-smoking policy to the offender until the offender gets so tired of hearing it that the offender finally realizes that the officer is not going to go away and the offender won't be able to smoke in peace anyway, so why not just extinguish the cigarette. This has to be done with tact and caution so as not to escalate the behavior of the smoker. If the smoker does get more irritated, it's time to back off and try a different approach. The risk of escalating behavior outweighs the need to get the smoker to comply and put out the cigarette.


Another approach shared with me is that once a warning is given three times without compliance, a staff member can use a walkie-talkie to fake a call to the police. Act like you’re pushing the button on the radio and announce that the police need to be summoned. Most smokers will not risk arrest over a cigarette. Security needs to use this approach in a nonthreatening manner and have a Plan B ready in case the smoker calls the bluff.


The personnel who told me about these approaches have let me know that they were successful with them. We would love to hear from others on any additional approaches they have used that have been successful. We need to bear in mind, however, that the goal of setting limits with smokers is not to get them to put out the cigarette, but to ensure that they don't escalate any further. The offender putting out the cigarette is a nice residual benefit. Remember that we cannot force individuals to act appropriately. We're talking about a cigarette, so let's bear in mind the importance of picking our battles. No one is going to lose their job simply because a smoker refuses to comply with a no-smoking policy. People adhering to a new policy takes time, but time is on our side.


Please post your comments on any other approaches you have used with success.

Get more helpful hints about behavior management.


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