Anger at cigarette smoke entering the maternity ward at Launceston General Hospital

When Tasmanian mum Corrie Summers was in the maternity ward earlier this year after an emergency C-section, she didn’t expect cigarette smoke in her suite with her newborn baby.

It was a sweltering summer day in February and desperate for some fresh air, Ms Summers decided to smash a window at Launceston General Hospital (LGH).

“There was no air conditioning, no fans allowed, and I understand it was for COVID control, but it was absolutely stuffy,” she said.

“The ambient temperature in the delivery room reached around 29 degrees [Celsius] each consecutive day.”

Mrs. Summers said she was in a shared room.

“We were both suffocating and the only air we had access to was through the window which we could only open in a very small amount.

Smoking is prohibited in all buildings and on the grounds of LGH, and the Public Health Act imposes financial penalties on anyone who violates the smoking ban rules.

However, some people have their cigarette break at Ockerby Gardens, a community park next to the LGH which is owned by Launceston City Council.

Ms Summers said smoke from the gardens wafted into the maternity ward.

“You’re trying to do everything perfectly for your baby, and something like that, which was completely out of my control, caused a level of anxiety that I still haven’t quite come to terms with.”

“I believe it also contributed to the development of my postnatal depression, for which I am receiving treatment.

The smoking area at Ockerby Gardens falls under the jurisdiction of Launceston Council, according to the hospital.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Council, the hospital “could be sued”

Kathryn Barnsley, organizer of Smoke Free Tasmania, said: ‘The situation at LGH with smoke entering the bedrooms is horrendous.

“I am absolutely amazed that they allow cigarette smoke to enter the maternities.”

According to the Australian Government’s Department of Health website, children and young people exposed to second-hand smoke are at greater risk of serious health and developmental problems.

These include asthma, sudden infant death syndrome, poor lung development, ear infections, respiratory diseases and behavioral problems.

Dr Barnsley said it was not difficult to declare smoke-free zones.

“Councils can do it, the director of public health can do it,” she said.

“Smoking should be banned in areas where smoke may affect patients.

‘People are allowed to smoke,’ says mayor

Launceston Mayor Albert Van Zetten said council was first made aware of the issue about two weeks ago.

“We have to take a common sense approach,” he said.

“We need to look at the areas that are working with LGH staff and make sure they smoke in the right areas of the garden. And if that can’t happen then obviously we’ll have to consider banning smoking in the garden.”

However, Mr Van Zetten said making the area smoke-free could lead to other problems.

“Where are all the patients, where are all the hospital staff going to smoke?

“They’ve banned it on their properties, so if we ban it at Ockerby Garden, are they going to move out of someone else’s businesses? Are they going to go to someone else’s house to smoke?”

Corrie Summers with her son Beau Styles.
Corrie Summers hopes her experience will mean “change for the next generation of mothers who will go through this”.(ABC News: Damian McIntyre)

Ms Summers said she would like to see Launceston City Council and LGH work together to develop a solution.

“Moving the smoking area to a place where staff could still enjoy this facility during their breaks, as they are entitled to do, but without impacting the smallest and most fragile in our community, namely our new -born in the first week of life, [is the solution],” she says.

“It won’t change my experience, but if I can help change it for the next generation of mothers who will go through it, it will be worth it.”

Smoking area ‘under council’s jurisdiction’, says LGH

In a statement, LGH chief operating officer Jen Duncan said the hospital had “clear signage in place throughout the compound stating that smoking is not permitted and that hospital security personnel successfully implements this policy on the spot”.

“Due to the hospital’s smoke-free environment, smokers often choose to smoke on surrounding trails and park outside of hospital grounds,” she said.

“This includes an area in moderate proximity to the LGH maternity ward and dedicated signage has been erected there to discourage smoking.

“The Tasmanian Health Service is committed to reducing the harm caused by smoking and offers smoking cessation programs for staff and patients.”

The Department of Health has been contacted for comment.