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Smoking ban may harm psychiatric patients – lawyer

Monday 20 May 2013 11:56a.m.

Lawyer: smoking ban may harm patients

A nurse and two patients challenging the Waitemata District Health Board’s ban on smoking in its acute mental health units say it is a matter of "human dignity".

The DHB currently does not allow its mental health patients to smoke in three intensive care units including North Shore, Waitakere and Rodney.

However, two patients, whose names remain suppressed, are fighting the ban in the Auckland High Court with the support of a nurse.

Their lawyer Richard Fancois opened the hearing by saying although the applicants accept there are dangers in smoking, it is “about the right to human dignity".

Mr Francois claims there are a lot of mental health patients refusing treatment because they don’t like going into the hospitals due to the non-smoking environment.

He referred to one example from a coroner’s inquest where a psychiatric patient told his mother, before taking his own life, that he did not want to go back to hospital because he could not smoke there.

In another example Mr Francois quoted a female patient who disobeyed the smoking ban by lighting up in her room.

“The best way for me to cope is to smoke cigarettes,” she said.

Mr Francois says he has seen a number of cases where patients have become violent or aggressive as a result of not being able to smoke.

He referred to examples of “desperation” where patients have tried to light cigarettes through causing sparks in electrical sockets because they don’t have access to lighters.

Mr Francois argues that banning patients from smoking while in short term care does not curb the habit in the long run.

He is calling for the Waitemata DBH to provide incapacitated and seriously ill patients with a room where they can smoke freely.

The Waitemata DHB will have its argument heard  tomorrow.

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