AN average of eight people a day were observed smoking in the grounds of the Mid-Western Regional hospital after the practice was outlawed, according to statistics.
This compares to an average of 19 people a day before the ban was introduced on May 31.
Security staff at the Dooradoyle hospital were tasked by the HSE to record the number of people smoking in a bid to establish whether there is a change of pattern.
Split into a regular 3pm check on ten sites in the grounds, and a random check on the same 10 sites, the security staff recorded a total of 558 instances of people lighting up from May 1 to 29, with the main entrance the most prevalent area.
In the statistics supplied to the Limerick Leader, the staff repeated the exercise for nine days in August, and discovered this figure had dropped to just 72 people.
The inspections were started during May, hospital services manager Jim Gallagher said, “because we wanted to see what the effect would be before and after the ban.”
He believes the statistics show the smoking ban has proven a success.
“We think it has been very successful, in terms of reducing the prevalence of smoking on the grounds. When you consider this is a health-promoting care facility, smoking has no place on the grounds,” he stated.
Of course, the ban on smoking inside the hospital grounds - something which is made clear through a loudspeaker when one enters the complex - has forced more people smoking outside the gates.
In the run up to the ban, patients argued that they were throwing themselves in the line of danger if they chose to smoke outside.
And in the last fortnight, Raheen-based councillor Richard Butler has highlighted the issue of the litter caused by cigarette butts on the road outside.
In an effort to combat this, Mr Gallagher said they have diverted funding away from their annual budgets to clean the pavements on the council-owned footpaths.
Local HSE press officer Michael Walsh added the council has not objected to the increased number of smokers on the public pavement. “The fundamental problem is one of a lack of civic pride among some of the people who come here” he said.
Inside, security guards have often found people smoking in forgotten corners of the campus. Rather than see this as a negative, Mr Gallagher says this shows the message is becoming clearer. “Beforehand, people openly smoked on campus. Now, they seem to be getting the message,” he said.
While security guards move smokers on if they find them puffing away, the statistics show there remains a problem with repeat offenders.
This is an area which has to be handled with care according to Mr Walsh.
“How far can you go, how tough can you be, where somebody is ill, is grieving, or has a lifetime of addiction? You cannot just turn around and eject people,” he said.
Mr Gallagher agrees and says: “You have to behave reasonably towards people. You cannot coerce people.”
Three months on from the ban, Mr Gallagher believes the cultural shift to non-smoking is on the way.
“The front of the hospital is cleaner.
We are very pleased at the level of support we have received,” the manager said.