Hospital officials want city council to include the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre in the city's smoke-free bylaw.

The hospital has its own no-smoking policy — but that hasn't stopped people from lighting up during the nine years the smoke-free policy has been in place.

Changing the city bylaw would allow authorized hospital staff to deal with the problem, said Jody Kondrat, who manages licensing and enforcement for Thunder Bay.

However, the city has relied on educating smokers so far and hasn't charged anyone yet.

"If we can't get the voluntary compliance, then charges would definitely be laid," she said.

Conflicting message

Hospitals across Ontario have struggled to enforce smoking bans, said the Canadian Cancer Society’s Sara McMillen.

"People debate … what is the right time frame to switch into a more heavy-handed enforcement policy, and whether or not those more heavy-handed enforcement policies are actually effective," she said.

Continued smoking on hospital property sends a conflicting health message and frustrates the hospital's effort to help people overcome addiction to nicotine, McMillen noted.

"If people have to walk through a crowd of smokers … that really detracts from patients who are trying to make that quit attempt."

McMillen said educating people about the bylaw is key.

"Somebody's made the policy decision, but most people are not yet aware of it," she said.

"There needs to be a lot more education that this is the policy in this area ... and we need to be able to make this a smoke-free area."

According to McMillen, being under a municipal smoking bylaw will give the hospital more resources to enforce its own policies, although there's no guarantee that fines will solve the problem.

Nevertheless, the tobacco enforcement officer at the Thunder Bay District Health Unit thinks extending the bylaw to include the hospital is a good idea.

"We've been noticing a lot of positive changes with the visitors, patients and staff at the hospital," Mike Duranceau said. "The hospital has done a great job at getting the message out there."

Hospital officials will present their bylaw request to city council at a Monday night council meeting. It is hoped the bylaw will be in place by Sept. 30.