The Whanganui District Health Board (DHB) has announced that its hospital on New Zealand’s North Island will go smoke-free on June 27 through offering free vapes and encouraged to use them while in the TeAwhina acute mental health ward.
The DHB said that vaping is 95 percent less harmful than cigarettes. It added, correctly, that vapes are a great tool to quit smoking. Studies show that e-cigarettes are more effective for cessation than nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). There are no demonstrated secondhand harms, so it makes perfect sense to offer them to smokers and allow their use inside.
“No one who smokes should have to leave hospital to obtain nicotine delivered in an effective, safer form. It’s simply barbaric.”
Smokers, including large numbers of people with mental health diagnoses, typically have a serious problem when admitted to the hospital or to inpatient drug treatment. They aren’t allowed to smoke inside and have to be accompanied outside by staff to have a cigarette. Some hospitals and treatment programs even ban smoking in outdoor spaces.
Staff offer NRT like the patch and gum but their efficacy is low, in part because they don’t replicate the rituals of smoking and the dose of nicotine can be insufficient to stave off withdrawal. This can and does lead to patients leaving the hospital against medical advice.
“The lack of compassion for people who smoke, and rejection of vaping, has no doubt contributed to tragic and entirely preventable deaths,” Marewa Glover, director of the Centre of Research Excellence: Indigenous Sovereignty & Smoking in New Zealand, told Filter. “There have been a few people who have died after leaving hospital so they could have a cigarette—people who were under observation for suicidal ideation. No one who smokes should have to leave hospital or observation wards to obtain nicotine delivered in an effective, safer form. It’s simply barbaric.”
The Whanganui District Health Board’s vaping policy is an example of how to deliver compassionate care for hospitalized patients who smoke. Other countries should learn from it.