Tougher laws needed for smokers

SICK children and other patients have been at risk from second-hand tobacco smoke in outdoor areas despite a policy that prohibited lighting up, a visitor to Dubbo Base Hospital says.

Rick Gough raised his concerns about persistent cigarette use in a supposed smoke-free zone, ahead of the introduction of tougher amendments to an actual law next week.

He said he had seen people flout a four-year-old NSW Health policy, a claim hospital management did not dispute, but instead warned that penalties would exist from next week.

Mr Gough of Dubbo said he had been visiting the hospital frequently in the past six months and cigarette use was a familiar sight.

"What amazed me was the number of people smoking in the open-air area, which is supposed to be for the kids in hospital to get a breath of fresh air and some sunlight," he said. A bad area was the back part of the maternity area, where the path and road were covered with butts and empty packets, he said.

The litter was not three metres from the automatic doors, he said, and the front entrance was "similar if not worse".

Mr Gough questioned how effective amendments to the Smoke-free Environment Act 2000 would prove when the NSW Health Smoke Free Workplace Policy had been disregarded, but the government's intentions were clear.

Penalties will exist for breaches of the new law, which will prohibit smoking in all enclosed public places, including within four metres of a public building's entrance. A Western NSW Local Health District spokesman emphasized the change.

The implementation and enforcement of the NSW Health policy had been the responsibility of the chief executive within the local health district, he said.

It had not carried any penalties and the districts had taken an "educative approach" to promoting the smoke-free zones.

It had included undertaking community awareness campaigns and introducing prominent signage, as was the case across Dubbo Base Hospital, the spokesman said.

The district urged the community to help support the health service in its efforts to provide a healthy environment.

Support for patients and staff included Quitline advice and nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), the spokesman said.

faye.wheeler@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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