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BLOOMINGTON - OSF St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington will become a smoke-free campus on Nov. 16 and administrator Ken Natzke hopes the decision will urge the Bloomington and Normal city councils to ban smoking in public places.

"This is one small way to encourage the cities to take definitive action on this," Natzke said Monday afternoon after he announced the hospital would ban outdoor smoking on its property. "In my mind, it's a public health issue."

Natzke said the smoke-free policy will affect OSF Medical Group properties throughout Bloomington-Normal.

St. Joseph's decision follows BroMenn Healthcare System's announcement on Jan. 18 that BroMenn will ban outdoor smoking on all its campuses on Nov. 16 - the day of The Great American Smokeout.

The rule also will affect BroMenn Regional Medical Center in Normal, Eureka Community Hospital in Eureka, and BroMenn properties in other communities.

St. Joseph hasn't allowed indoor smoking for more than 20 years, Natzke said. Smoking is allowed outside in an area to the rear of the medical center.

Extending the smoking ban outside has been discussed on and off for 10 years, Natzke said. He admitted the decision to go smoke-free was prompted by the city councils' deliberations.

"If New York City and Chicago can deal with this issue, I would think Bloomington-Normal can," he said, referring to those cities' recent public smoking bans. Natzke thought a St. Joseph representative would comment to the Bloomington City Council at its public input meeting next Monday.

A St. Joseph statement said the American Cancer Society has concluded secondhand smoke contains at least 60 chemical compounds known or suspected to cause cancer.

Cancer society data said secondhand smoke is responsible for 35,000 to 40,000 deaths from heart disease and about 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year in nonsmokers, as well as respiratory tract infections and asthma attacks in children and low birth-weight babies.

Natzke said he didn't know how many employees smoke but said smoking cessation programs would be available for patients and employees.

Meanwhile, Dr. Gary Hagens, BroMenn chief operating officer and vice president of medical affairs, said since BroMenn made its announcement, some employees have asked questions and BroMenn will have employee forums to provide answers.

"Externally, I have not had a whole lot of comments and the ones I have received have been supportive and positive," Hagens said.


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