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8:40 PM Wed, Dec. 12th

VA slowly unfolding no-smoking policy on its Prescott campus

The Prescott VA Medical Center is initiating a no-smoking policy on its campus. (Courtesy)

The Prescott VA Medical Center is initiating a no-smoking policy on its campus. (Courtesy)

At a time when smoking in public places has become more and more taboo, the local VA is instituting a no-smoking policy, beginning at its Domiciliary program, a short-term, in-patient rehabilitation program for those coping with substance abuse disorders, mental health issues and homelessness.

Starting a month ago, veterans admitted into the program were informed that the one-time, outdoor courtyard smoking area is now off-limits. The remainder of the 164-acre campus has not yet gone completely smoke-free, but the medical facility is moving in that direction, said Mary Dillinger, the public affairs officer at Northern Arizona Veteran Affairs Health Care Systems in Prescott.

The VA serves some 27,000 veterans across Northern Arizona.

At least a couple of the Domiciliary veterans are distressed with the new policy, particularly that the rules say that if someone is caught violating the rules they will be kicked out of the program. The veterans — they asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal — said the staff is allowing the residents to get free nicotine lozenges and patches, but they said they have yet to implement any smoking cessation classes or support groups to assist with this new policy. They fear that the VA’s new policy may be interpreted as “one strike smoking or using tobacco products and you’re out.”

Dillinger says that is not true.

The policy is health-based and is being implemented in a fashion intended to educate the veterans, not punish them, Dillinger said. When veterans are admitted to the Domiciliary, Dillinger said, they are informed of the new policy. No one should be caught by surprise, she said.

Though the Domiciliary no longer allows smoking on the premises, the veterans who are residents can still walk across the street to the sports courts where smoking is still allowed, she said.

Around the main campus, including right across from the entrance of the main medical facility, are benches next to the tall, plastic ashtrays where people can still smoke and deposit their butts. All of the VA’s ashtrays are located so as to encourage smokers to be unobtrusive to those who do not smoke.

In the future, Dillinger said, the administration wants to impose a campus-wide policy, but that will likely take time to roll out as it will require some public education.

“We don’t want the campus to be unwelcoming, but we do want to promote health and smoking in someone’s face is not a good way to do that,” Dillinger said. “We have to do it properly so people understand why we’re doing it.”

So far, Dillinger said the policy has been viewed as one that makes sense given that the VA is a health care facility. Outdoor areas are places where people should be able to go and relax in fresh air rather than be bombarded with second-hand smoke, she said.

“It’s actually been a positive,” she said.

Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci. Reach her at 928-445-3333 ext. 2041.