WMC smoking ban would contain Conwell Park

The Wyoming Medical Center’s campus-wide smoking ban may be moving across the street into Conwell Park. WMC smoking ban could encompass Conwell Park. With the approval of the Casper City Council early next year, a new city ordinance would be the first to ban tobacco use in a public park.

An unintended consequence of WMC’s tobacco ban that went into effect on July 1 has been a significant increase in the number of individuals who cross Second Street to smoke in the park. The resulting amount of cigarette litter n and concerns for the safety of patients, visitors and employees crossing the busy street n prompted a request from the hospital to expand the tobacco ban beyond the hospital’s property.

 The WMC is not the first hospital in the nation to prohibit tobacco and 16 of Wyoming’s 23 hospitals are smoke-free.

The policy that went into effect in July expanded an in-the-hospital buildings ban that had been in place for years. The new ban extended to all hospital staff, patients and visitors, both inside the buildings and on all of the surrounding campus. Areas formerly designated for smoking, including the sixth floor of the parking garage, were eliminated.
The change was prompted by a countywide health survey done in conjunction with the Casper-Natrona County Health Department, WMC CEO Vickie Diamond explained in July. Tobacco use was listed by respondents as the top risky behavior, right behind alcohol and drug abuse.

According to Tobacco Free Wyoming, $136 million in healthcare costs in the state is directly caused by smoking. Seven hundred people die in Wyoming each year from smoking and another 90 individuals die from exposure to second-hand smoke.

“As a positive role model in the community, Wyoming Medical Center has an obligation to address the use of tobacco on the campus,” Diamond said at the July press conference announcing the tobacco ban.

Getting compliance with the ban has been a “challenge,” WMC representative Mike Phillips told the Casper City Council at a work session. Nicotine replacement therapy is available for all patient who use tobacco, and nicotine replacement gum and/or lozenges are available free of charge to visitors.

WMC employees were offered free assistant and nicotine replacement products. By the end of August, 77 to 100 of the hospital’s tobacco-using employees have taken part; about 13 percent have quit using tobacco. Tobacco use on the hospital property has decreased so much that the air is so clear that “you can smell any smoke on the campus,” Phillips said.

The success on campus has turned into a litter issue for the sidewalks and the park across the street and a safety issue on Second Street. Even with a cigarette butt receptacle and a trash bin located close to the park’s benches, the park is littered with cigarette debris. Patients with IV poles and their visitors are dodging cars to get across Second Street to sit and smoke in the park. Smokers then bring the smell of smoke back into the hospital.

“We’re asking the city to take a stand,” Phillips said of the requested park ban. “Health care is an important issue in the community.”

The council’s support for a draft ordinance was split, with council members Maury Daubin, Kate Sarosy, Kim Holloway and Stephanie Boster and Mayor Kenyne Schlager in favor of bringing a Conwell Park smoking ban ordinance to the council for consideration at a future meeting.

“My concern is with saying you can’t smoke on a city sidewalk,” said council member Glenn Januska.

Council member Paul Bertoglio added, “In the course of looking at this, will we push tobacco use in front of another business?”Editing by helen

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