MONDAY, Nov. 5, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Smokers admitted to hospitals that do not have a full smoking ban often go outside to light up, a new study shows.
Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital found 18.4 percent of patients who smoke reported having a cigarette during their hospital stay. They noted that younger smokers with no intention of quitting are among those most likely to continue smoking as inpatients.
The researchers followed nearly 5,400 smokers who met with a tobacco counselor during their hospitalization at Massachusetts General between May 2007 and April 2010. Although smoking is banned inside the hospital, there are two outdoor shelters in which smoking by patients is permitted. The researchers checked the patients' smoking when they were counseled and during a follow-up assessment.
"Patients were more likely to report having smoked while hospitalized if they were younger, had more severe cigarette cravings, did not report planning to quit, had longer stays and were not admitted to a cardiac unit," the authors wrote in a news release.
Although nicotine replacement therapy reduced patients' smoking before they met with a tobacco counselor, this treatment was not effective for smokers' entire stay in the hospital.
"Assessment of cigarette cravings, especially among younger smokers and those who do not plan to quit after discharge, could identify high-risk patients," the authors concluded. "The routine order of [nicotine replacement therapy] on admission and the expansion of smoke-free policies to cover the entire hospital campus are two strategies that might decrease the proportion of smokers who smoke while hospitalized. This could improve patient safety, hospital efficiency and clinical outcomes for hospitalized smokers."
"Like other aspects of tobacco control, this study shows us how far we have come and how much more needs to be done," Dr. Steven Schroeder, of the University of California, San Francisco, said in the release. "There is increasing pressure to remove the outdoor smoking areas that serve as a refuge for hospitalized patients and employees to sneak out for a smoke, representing a transition from smoke-free hospitals to smoke-free campuses."
The study's authors pointed out that the Joint Commission, an independent nonprofit organization that accredits and certifies U.S. health care facilities, requires accredited hospitals in the United States to ban smoking inside hospital buildings, but this mandate does not include hospital campuses.
The study was published online Nov. 5 in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health provides more information on the harmful effects of smoking.