The last refuge of the workday smoker the sidewalk of shame, where the nicotine-addicted get their fixes under the baleful watch of passersby is about to vanish at Red Bank’s largest employer, Riverview Medical Center.
Riverview’s parent, Meridian Health, has decreed that as of November 20 the date of the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout it will no longer allow anyone to smoke anywhere on any of its properties. They include Jersey Shore Medical Center in Neptune and Ocean Medical Center in Brick Township.
The ban applies to patients, visitors and employees, who could be fired for repeated offenses, such as smoking in cars parked on hospital properties, admits Wendy Edelson, Meridian’s head of human resources. But she says a four-step disciplinary process and programs to help wean smokers off the weed should make terminations rare in the 8,500-employee system.
The hospital started educating workers and offering stepped-up efforts to help smokers quit a year ago, Edelson says, and “you’d be surprised how many people have taken us up on this.”
The ban is part of a broadening national trend. Southern Ocean County Hospital in Manahawkin already bars smoking on its properties, and big health facilities across the country are adopting the same stance. College campuses, too; USAToday reported last week that 140 in America have banned smoking, triple the number of just 18 months ago. Seton Hall University appears to be moving toward a ban, according to a report in the campus newspaper.
Meridian officials say they’re not trying to interfere with a smoker’s rights. They’re just taking control of an environment that is, after all, dedicated to human health.
“We’re just saying, ‘not on our property,'” says Edelson. “We decided we were going to take this on to benefit everybody, especially our team” of employees.
Among them: the workers who get stuck picking up the slack while smokers are outside getting their fresh air. “You know that break time is extended” when someone has to leave the building to smoke, Edelson says, putting the issue squarely in the productivity category.
Will the ban push the last remaining smokers out onto the sidewalks of East Front Street or Wharf Avenue? Officials contend that state law permits any property owner that maintains a sidewalk and adjoining property to ban smoking.
Riverview’s policy also means that not even the demolition contractors hired to tear down the former Worden-Hoidal Funeral Home on East Front Street, which the hospital bought this summer, will be allowed to smoke on the site.
The ban applies to all tobacco products, including cigars, chewing tobacco, snuff and pipe smoking, and extends even to cars leased by the hospital.