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Help or harassment? Hospital targets patients who smoke

I had barely got back from Brussels yesterday when I was asked to record an interview for BBC Look North.

So I drove over to the BBC studios in Cambridge and spoke to presenter Peter Levy (above).

The subject was the decision by hospital administrators to ban smoking outside Hull Royal Infirmary.

Today I saw the full Look North report. You can watch it too but only until 6.45 tonight.

There are a couple of things to note.

One, the report features a 21-year-old patient who despite having a catheter and wearing a nightgown has been forced to go off site to smoke.

As she told the programme, "It's humiliating having to stand at a bus stop. It's like punishing you for smoking."

Two, a woman who is walking slowly with the use of crutches is being followed by a male "stop smoking specialist" who is physically a lot more imposing than she is.

He is walking alongside her and can be heard saying, "I was wondering if you'd like to take this opportunity to stop smoking yourself."

I'm not sure if this can be classified as help or harassment. Whichever, it looks and feels completely wrong to me.

Bear in mind I hadn't seen this report when I did my interview which was shown directly after. Nevertheless I said pretty much what I wanted to say.

Truth is, hospital smoking bans are a disgrace because they demonstrate a staggering lack of compassion to ordinary people. Weirdly perhaps I feel even more strongly about them than many other smoking bans.

Like smoking bans in mental care homes they target people, patients and visitors especially, when they may be at their most vulnerable – stressed, upset and in need of a comforting cigarette.

At Hull Royal Infirmary they used to have a smoking shelter. Today even that has been removed and replaced by a stark 'No Smoking' sign.

Increasingly hospitals are being run not by humans with a heart but by tick-boxing automatons with little empathy and no compassion for people who don't conform to current orthodoxy.

Frankly, it makes me sick.

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Reader Comments (18)

Hi Simon,

Just watched you on LookNorth, you did very well in putting our point of view forward, however I noticed that no one mentioned the fact that it is not illegal to smoke outside of the buildings. Also the fact that what the hospital management are illegally attempting to force people to stop smoking within the legal areas i.e. Outside.

If it comes to it the hospital is in fact the lawbreaker here as they are assaulting any person if they attempt to force them off the grounds as the grounds are in the open air and belong to the public.

Friday, June 2, 2017 at 16:08 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Kerr

Fair point, David. The problem is, I think, that by making legality a major issue the next step will be to introduce a law making smoking outside illegal (as has happened in Scotland).

What we have to do is to focus on the fact that banning smoking on hospital grounds is wrong, full stop, and explain why. Whether it's legal or illegal is relatively unimportant.

Friday, June 2, 2017 at 16:09 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

Well said Simon. I know what two words I would say to someone following and taunting me as I struggled to walk off a hospital site.

This policy is disgraceful. #smokerphobia

Friday, June 2, 2017 at 16:55 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

The outdoor hospital smoking bans should be rejected. Those put in force should be repealed. No new bans should be enacted. Beyond that, separately ventilated indoor smoking rooms should be considered. The persecution of smokers must stop.

Friday, June 2, 2017 at 17:09 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

I cringe when I hear the argument made by Peter Levy that "why shouldn't the NHS object to people smoking on their property?". Erm, the NHS is paid for out of our taxes, in what way does that make it *their* property?

Friday, June 2, 2017 at 17:52 | Unregistered CommenterDick Puddlecote


You are correct it is illegal to smoke in hospital grounds in Scotland but only up to 15 metres from the building, even the Scottish Nasty Party realised it was not plausible to make all outside areas within hospital grounds illegal. A fact a lot of hospitals in Scotland have realised and are contemplating reintroducing smoking shelters

Friday, June 2, 2017 at 19:11 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Kerr

Totally agree, this ban is cruel and inhumane. Recently introduced where I work, I feel ashamed when I see patient with wheelchairs and drips wheeled off site. No smoking signs were soon joined by ones asking people not to be abusive when to old to stop smoking. If I had taken 5 minutes from sitting with a dying relative I'd be abusive too. A disgusting policy. And a shabby way to treat hard working staff. It makes me very angry and I don't even smoke myself.

Saturday, June 3, 2017 at 5:55 | Unregistered CommenterVanessa

Subjecting people to public humiliation is the whole point of hospital and other smoking bans, it's called social denormalisation and it's certainly not about their health or anybody else's.

To treat the elderly and sick like this brings shame to the hospitals, shame to the Country and especially shame to the politicians who created this outrage against common decency.

The NHS must be smoke free by the end of 2006 (Department of Health, 2004).

Saturday, June 3, 2017 at 11:16 | Unregistered CommenterRose2

The irony. The policy is abusive. Any abusve reaction to it is natural. The policy should, in fact, be illegal.

Saturday, June 3, 2017 at 12:28 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse


It is illegal, the law, at the moment anyway, states smoking outdoors is not limited in any way therefore what the hospital is stating has no law to back it up and if they attempt to enforce it they are breaking the law, in Scotland known as breach of the peace. Anyone who is smoking outside of a building even in hospital grounds are not breaking any laws apart from Scotland where the smoker has to be at least 15 metres away from the building. Therefore I fail to see why no one is disputing these bans as they in law are purely voluntary.

Saturday, June 3, 2017 at 13:40 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Kerr

I was recently an in patient at a hospice for the terminally ill. They refuse to let you use an e-cigarette. 'Trust policy' - it is bad for your health! In a hospice - where people go to spend their last few days/weeks before they die! They gave me a hospital issue nicotine patch which reacted so badly with the drugs they were giving me they had to take it off me.

Saturday, June 3, 2017 at 17:19 | Unregistered CommenterAnna Raccoon

Anything legal can quickly be made illegal and we smokers have learned that can happen anytime to anything that was once legal - like consumer rights and smoking indoors. Simon is right. Argue this on legal grounds and there will be a law to make it illegal.

Saturday, June 3, 2017 at 17:24 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Here in my California hometown, a new hospital was built five years ago, with spacious outdoor balcony areas at either end of the five patient floors. While the whole place is festooned with the "no smoking anywhere under any circumstances" signs we've come to expect at hospitals, the staff members are happy to look the other way if patients wish to go out there and smoke discreetly when the balcony is otherwise unoccupied.

My wife suffered a gruesome leg fracture a few years back (we both still smoked at the time) and had to stay in hospital for three days and two nights, so you can imagine how thankful I was that I didn't have to push her wheelchair down to the ground floor, out the front entrance, and 100 yards down the street so she could have a smoke in her hospital gown in full public view.

I've never quite figured out if it's an unwritten/unstated official policy to be compassionate toward smoking patients in this way, or if it's something the nursing staff just decided amongst themselves (since it saves them lots of precious time not having to push patients around for half an hour every time one wants a cigarette), but in either case it's nice to see islands of common sense occasionally cropping up in the ocean of anti-smoker extremism.

Saturday, June 3, 2017 at 17:49 | Unregistered CommenterNate


Okay I can see where you and Simon are coming from, however the way Simon and forest are arguing about this, the powers that be are not listening they are going with the flow. The way to attract there attention is I believe to use the law as an argument against it, then if they do not listen but just go with the flow, then we do have a case for harassment as it would then show in law that there is a clear case of victimisation against a fair portion of the population who are carrying out a lawful act. It is not illegal until the point has been made and tested. If the test is repulsed then who does it show legally to be the bully

Saturday, June 3, 2017 at 19:29 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Kerr

One response to the harassing man might be: “And I was wondering if you’d like to take this opportunity to consider minding your own damned business.”

Or, less offensively (or is it more so?) “... And I was thinking that you should really find an opportunity to have a quiet word with your clearly myopic hairstylist.”

Sunday, June 4, 2017 at 2:57 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

The NHS are guilty of cruel and unusual punishment . Maybe they could employ people to dance in front of wheelchair users .

Sunday, June 4, 2017 at 6:36 | Unregistered CommenterSimon Spalding

a woman who is walking slowly with the use of crutches is being followed by a male "stop smoking specialist" who is physically a lot more imposing than she is.

He is walking alongside her and can be heard saying, "I was wondering if you'd like to take this opportunity to stop smoking yourself."

I'm not sure if this can be classified as help or harassment. Whichever, it looks and feels completely wrong to me.

The above sounds a lot like the games being played here in the US with campus smoking bans. A lot of urban campuses seem to be built in fairly poor neighborhoods with high crime rates. Students are sometimes routinely warned about going off campus at night and are even granted free security escorts whenever they DO wish to go off campus for any reason.

Er.... unless they want to smoke when it's a smoke-banned campus. If you enroll at the University of Montana you may find that not only are students cautioned regarding attempted rapes, aggravated assaults, and robberies on campus at night, but are provided security escorts on request. BUT, if you want a security escort to go to the edge of the campus to grab a smoke you may run into a bit of a problem: The Chief of Campus Security, Gary Taylor said he doesn't think the Griz Personal Safety staff should be used to escort smokers. "The whole intent of the ban is to get people to stop smoking," he said. (Ref:

There is no sound reason for open air campus bans. Even if you fully accept the figures promoted by the EPA Report as true, the levels and durations of ordinary student on-campus exposure would predict just one extra lung cancer for every 250 million student-years of exposure. Campus smoking bans are designed to treat students like rats: give them little "electric shocks" by making them go off campus, sometimes at night into dangerous neighborhoods, if they want to smoke -- with the idea of "conditioning" them into the desired behavior. Students are NOT rats, they shouldn't be TREATED like rats, and they most certainly should not ACCEPT being treated like rats. Campus bans can be fought and beaten if you spread the truth about the claims that they're based on.

The same thoughts can and should be applied to hospital patients.


Sunday, June 4, 2017 at 10:52 | Unregistered CommenterMichael J McFadden

David, if approached in that manner I would warn the person following and harassing me that if they did not go away then I would call police and report them for harassment - at least as long as I was able to until the law changed and it would.

Be aware that even smoking itself and even just being in possession of tobacco will be illegal one day.

That is why tobacco companies are bailing out and onto the ecig bandwagon in cahoots with tobacco control and why smokers are being pushed further into criminality whether smoking on hospital grounds or ultimately in their own home.

For now smoking is not against the law but enough complaints about being harassed while smoking on the grounds of a hospital will lead to it being made illegal. That is what happens to a group of people who are stripped of rights and forced into 2nd class citizenship.

I have said on here many times that criminalisation is the ultimate aim and the bullies are on course with their step by step approach. Anything legal can be made illegal. Simon and forest do a great job but they do not have the power, influence or money of our tormentors.

Of course, if all this happened at once on July 1 2007 there would have been an outcry but the slow drip effect of their scaremongering and hate campaign shows prohibition does work if one takes their time about it.

Sunday, June 4, 2017 at 13:53 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

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