Colleges and companies that make their campuses smoke-free spur about 10 percent of smokers to quit, studies show. The other 90 percent? They’re still doing whatever it takes to get to the nearest smoking area, like at the MetroCenter business park in Nashville, where smokers from one company have worn a brown path into the grass to light their Hilton cigarettes on a street median as cars pass in both directions.
“Those poor souls,” smoker Georgie Pett-Powell said Wednesday as she looked on from her smoking area, arranged by a neighboring company, beneath a tree at the edge of a small pond.
While smokers in the median endure the sun above and goose droppings below, Pett-Powell tosses stale bread to ducks and turtles. “We don’t mind coming out here,” she said, pointing to the shade.
Full-blown smoking bans, like those in place at most local hospitals and going into effect this year at three area universities, mean longer walks, shorter breaks and clipped conversations for smokers. Those who cross streets, including hospital patients in wheelchairs at Centennial Medical Center, contend with traffic.
But by this point, after all the health warnings, tax increases and rule changes, many of these smokers have given up on giving up the habit. Tennessee has one of the 10 highest smoking rates in the nation, with about 23 percent of adults regularly lighting up, compared to 18 percent nationwide, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. The state also has high rates for teen smoking and workplace exposure.
‘Very hard to quit’
Calls to the state’s free QuitLine, , have fallen three years in a row.
“It’s very hard to quit,” said Tonya Hobbs, who walked four minutes across Centennial Medical Center to take a smoke break Wednesday along Patterson Street. “The gum makes me sick.”
A steady stream of employees, patients and relatives made their way to the Patterson Street sidewalk, where they complained of a lack of shade, seating and trash cans.
When it rains, “we still come out — we’re shivering,” said nurse Julie Inman.
As for benches, she has little hope.
“They’re not going to do that for us smokers,” she said. “We’re like the black sheep of the hospital.”
But the smoke-free facility has helped Inman and friend Sara McCullough cut back, they said. They know co-workers who quit.
Campuses go smoke-free
At least three local universities enacted smoke-free campus rules for this school year, joining at least 700 nationwide. Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro and Austin Peay State University in Clarksville are going smoke-free but will allow students and staff to light up inside vehicles. At Belmont University in Nashville, even vehicles are now off-limits for smoking under a new rule.
Lisa Schrader, director of health promotion at MTSU, said the new policy does not have a specified punishment, because it is not meant to be punitive.
“The hope is this becomes a cultural change over the next three or four years,” she said, comparing the rule to behavioral changes over the years regarding littering and seat belt use.
MTSU and Belmont will provide discounted smoking cessation gums, lozenges and patches this year. Schrader also expects an increased interest in quitting programs.
“Already, two people made the comment they had always sort of thought about quitting,” she said.
MTSU will conduct a smoking survey in the spring.
Barbara Forbes, director of the Institute for Smoking Cessation and Prevention at Vanderbilt’s Dayani Center, said the MTSU plan takes the right approach.
“When you put a ban on, you don’t want it to be a Big Brother approach,” she said.
Smoking recidivism is high, she said, so organizations need services in place to assist those who try to quit when bans are put in place.
At Vanderbilt University Medical Center, all smokers are directed to a walled-off walkway with benches along 21st Avenue. Smokers previously stood on the sidewalk.
“It looked like people waiting for a parade,” Forbes said. “Now you can’t see the heads of people smoking. You just see these funnels of smoke that kind of rise up.”
Despite the hostility that Forbes has occasionally heard from smokers, she said the rules try to be considerate to the workers and patients caught in stressful situations.
Many smokers in the designated area said they appreciate having benches and disposal bins.
“Sometimes you need a breath of … I won’t say fresh air, but of different air,” said Diana Thorn of Kentucky, who was visiting a patient. “It’s better than some places that say ‘no smoking whatsoever.’ ”
Linda Hicks, also visiting a patient, said it took her about 30 minutes round-trip to get in a smoke break.
A positive, she said, was meeting considerate people.
“Everybody wishes you well,” she said.
Forbes sees some dedicated efforts to smoke just by looking out her office window. She said she sees parents wheeling children in red wagons from the hospital to a nearby SunTrust Bank to take a smoke break.
“That pains me,” she said. “That shows that this is a chronic addiction.”