Smoking seems never to create as much heat as it does at John Hunter Hospital. The perennial knot of people sucking desperately on cigarettes at or near the hospital's entrances is regarded by those walking through or near them as more than an irritation. It is, as has been evident in the Herald's Letters columns, an affront. And, as is always the case when someone condemns smokers or smoking, a mortal risk to health. Raymond Hampson is one such person. He has been phoning the offices of federal and state MPs and this paper since he felt he had to run through "a disgusting cloud of smoke" at the entrance to the hospital one morning last week.
The hospital has signs headed Hunter New England NSW Health and proclaiming that "in the interests of better health smoking is not permitted anywhere on this site", and the better health bit is nonsense. It is nonsense to suggest that momentary exposure to greatly diluted cigarette smoke is a threat to anyone's health, and I reckon this ban is about nothing more than bolstering bureaucratic piety.
Smoking is a terrible thing but that does not disqualify smokers from a fair go. It is unfortunate that they are in hospital, but that misfortune and their inability to leave the site should not be seen by health authorities as an opportunity to inflict hardship on them.
I believe smoking should be permitted only on a smoker's private property, that smoking in view of the public or in company of non-smokers should be banned, and that it should be an offence for pregnant women to smoke. But banning smoking in the open air at hospitals is not a step in that direction, it is those with the power inflicting unnecessary hardship on those rendered powerless. Bullying, in other words.
Do you agree that smokers deserve a fair go at John Hunter Hospital and other hospitals?