Smoking bans: the conflict smolders

Non-smokers are better protected today than they were ten years ago – but not from hospital entrances or in clubs.

The smoke – pretty, but unfortunately also passively unhealthy. Photo: dpa

A contradiction in cloudy form: In the hospital, one usually wants to get well. But to get inside, in many places you first have to pass through clouds of smoke. Visitors and sick people, people in wheelchairs or with plaster legs bustle in front of the entrances and quarrel. Of course, smoking is prohibited in the clinic building. But even on the grounds of the Charite, for example, you are only allowed to light your cigarette in certain places. The only problem is that hardly anyone complies.

"Smoking on hospital premises must be punishable by law, so that it can be punished," Jalid Sehouli, director of gynecology at the Virchow Clinic, demanded in the House of Representatives on Monday. The health committee had invited experts to find out about deficiencies in the protection of non-smokers. Since 2008, a law has been in force in Berlin that prohibits smoking in public buildings such as government offices or courts, in museums and restaurants, and even in hospitals.

Overall, developments in recent years have been positive. "The Non-Smoker Protection Act was a milestone in prevention," praised Kerstin Jungling from the Addiction Prevention Unit in the committee. The number of smokers had fallen, she said, and on average young people now reach for a cigarette later. "In public spaces, the protection of non-smokers works quite well," Jungling summed up.

But not on hospital grounds. In addition to treating acute illnesses, prevention is also part of the hospitals’ mission, Sehouli emphasized. "But we can’t talk about prevention and ignore smoking." Annoyed, the doctor reported patients reacting aggressively when the smoking pavilions were pointed out to them. In the U.S., smoking is only allowed within 100 meters of the hospital, Sehouli said. "We are now also discussing a ban mile for smokers."

Charite has domiciliary rights on its hospital grounds and could already punish violators of a smoking ban, Johannes Spatz of Forum Rauchfrei said this afternoon. "False consideration" for patients and employees is the reason the clinic does not enforce it, he said. Spatz called – similar to Sehouli – for an extension of the legal smoking ban to the grounds of the clinics.

No statement could be obtained from the Charite management on Monday afternoon. A spokeswoman for the Vivantes group reacted cautiously to the demands. Bans are often not enough, especially for addictions, she said. "It’s much better to offer support on the path to becoming a non-smoker."

It’s still too early for nonsmokers to take a deep breath elsewhere, too, as the health committee made clear. Every fourth child in Berlin grows up in a household where at least one person smokes, Kerstin Jungling reported. "Many are still too little aware of the dangers of passive smoking," said the social education worker. Spatz sees it the same way – and calls for a ban on smoking in cars when children and young people ride along.

Even those who want to go dancing should still be able to tolerate smoke. A large part of the club operators does not keep to the law, criticized Spatz. Out of 100 discotheques, only eight were found to be smoke-free in a survey, he said. For Spatz, it’s clear: "The Non-Smoker Protection Act needs to be put to the test."

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