The Department of Veterans Affairs ushered in a new policy this week making its healthcare facilities completely smoke-free.
Most notably, the policy, which took effect on Tuesday, eliminates designated smoking shelters that had been a fixture at many VA hospitals. Now, smoking is strictly prohibited on the grounds of all such facilities, a ban that applies to patients, visitors, volunteers, contractors, vendors, and employees. The change extends to cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and e-cigarette devices.
The VA said that the policy change represents a sweeping effort to combat the risks of second and even third-hand smoke.
“There is overwhelming evidence that smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke creates significant medical risks,” the agency said in a release explaining the decision to eliminate designated smoking zones. “There is no risk-free level of exposure to tobacco smoke; it is dangerous to health even at low levels and can infiltrate barriers such as smoking shelters. There is a growing body of evidence that exposure to thirdhand smoke creates additional risks to safety and direct patient care. For instance, tobacco odors can trigger allergy or asthma reactions in others, or can trigger the desire to smoke in persons attempting to quit.”
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said that the agency joins a growing number of smoke-free campuses.
“As of 2014, 4,000 health care facilities and four national health care systems in the U.S. have implemented smoke-free grounds,” Wilkie said in the release.
Criticism is Strong
The decision has not been warmly received by everyone. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated last year that about three out of ten American military veterans use tobacco products, and cigarettes in particular have long been associated with the armed services.
In a story published this week, the Associated Press reported that some veterans are upset over the change.
“It’s going a little too far,” Gregory d’Arbonne, president of the New Hampshire chapter of the Association of the United States Army, told the Associated Press. “I’m against smoking, but there are people who smoke. When they do, they go outside and have this little smoking area. Now, what are they going to do?”
The new policy was first announced in June, although initially it did not apply to VA employees due to an agreement between the agency and the union that represents the department’s workers. But in August, the VA announced that it had modified the policy to extend the ban to employees no later than January of 2020 based on employee union-negotiated timelines.