DALLAS -- West Valley Hospital and its parent facility in Salem last week joined a short list of hospitals across the state that are completely smoke free.
Employees, patients and visitors to the hospital are now prohibited from lighting up anywhere on either campus. That includes smoking in the parking lot, even inside a vehicle.
Hospital officials coordinated the ban to coincide with the Great American Smokeout, an American Cancer Society event designed to promote awareness about the health threat posed by smoking.
"There's a growing body of studies that substantiate that secondhand smoke is a risk," said Jon Pelky, cardiac service line director at Salem Hospital and the chair of the Clear the Air Committee, a group of officials that organized the ban.
"So when you think about a hospital, with infants, children, pregnant women ... it's important for us to take a leadership role in this area."
Almost 4,900 Oregonians died as a result of smoking in 1999 and about $870 million was spent on health care for smoking-related ailments, according to the Center for Disease Control.
Secondhand smoke, meanwhile, is responsible for 800 deaths in the state annually, the American Lung Association said.
Bill Crites is a respiratory therapist at West Valley and one of those who helped spearhead the smoking ban.
"We're just trying to promote a healthy lifestyle for the community we serve," he said. "And this is taking the first step."
As part of the initiative, both hospitals have posted signs and markers in hallways. Brochures and other forms detailing how to quit smoking are available at entrances.
Officials are also offering counseling and smoking cessation courses for $20.
Pelky said the planning for Salem Hospital's smoking ban, as well as the education process staff and patients has been a major undertaking for the past year.
For smoking clients or visitors, Salem Hospital's pharmacies are offering two pieces of nicotine gum or lozenges to help alleviate the craving.
The ban has been a less complex issue at West Valley, Crites said.
The local facility has only 100 employees, compared to 3,300 at Salem.
West Valley will not offer nicotine alternatives to its visitors or staff.
"Ours is a small campus, so they (smokers) will be encouraged to walk off campus -- which ends right at the sidewalk," he said.
If somebody is seen smoking, they will be approached by officials, told of the hospital's goal of maintaining a smoke-free environment and given a card that outlines how to kick their habit, Crites said.
"We're not going to be security guards," Crites said. "If we see them, we'll inform them of the policy ... we're not going to force them off the property.
Crites said he's aware that some will perceive the move as a violation of personal rights.
"Somebody has already asked us 'Why not obesity? Why not do something about the junk food in the vending machines?'" he said. "There are many issues that we can jump on, but right now we're just going one by one. We don't anticipate this will be that much of a problem."
Christy Northrop, a West Valley patient and a smoker, said the new regulation goes too far.
"I don't think you should be smoking in the main entrance," she said. "But they could make a place for people to smoke that's away from everyone.
"Some people come here (to wait) during emergencies ... they need to allow something for those that really need it."