No smoking at VA hospitals – including e-cigs and vaping – beginning in October

Abbie Bennett
August 21, 2019 - 11:46 am

Photo by Lance Cpl. Heather Johnson, Marine Expeditionary Force

This story was originally published at 3:51 p.m. EST on June 10, 2019. It was updated at 11:41 a.m. Aug. 21. 

The Department of Veterans Affairs has officially outlawed smoking at its health care facilities.

The agency announced in June the new policy restricting smoking by patients, visitors, volunteers, contractors and vendors at its facilities goes into effect by October. 

On Aug. 21, the VA announced it was modifying its policy further -- workers will also be banned from smoking at VA health care facilities, to "guarantee a fully smoke-free environment for veterans," the agency announced, though employees may be able to keep smoking a little longer than others. The employee smoke-free policy is expected to be completed "no later than January 2020" based on employee union negotiations. 

The new policy doesn't just cover cigarettes -- it also includes cigars, pipes and "any other combustion of tobacco and non-Federal Drug Administration approved electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), including but not limited to electronic or e-cigarettes, vape pens or e-cigars." 

The VA previously allowed smoking at certain hospitals and other medical facilities in designated areas, but "there is growing evidence that smoking and exposure to secondhand and thirdhand smoke creates significant medical risks, and risks to safety and direct patient care that are inconsistent with medical requirements and limitations," the department said in a news release Monday.

A recent VA survey showed that about 85 percent of VA medical leaders support smoke-free campuses, according to the release.

“We are not alone in recognizing the importance of creating a smoke-free campus,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement. “As of 2014, 4,000 health care facilities and four national health care systems in the U.S. have implemented smoke-free grounds. This policy change coincides with additional VHA efforts to help us become the provider of choice for Veterans and the reason why Veterans will choose VA.”

On expanding the policy to include employees, Wilkie said: 

“This policy change is consistent with our mission to promote a healthy environment for patients, visitors and employees at our facilities and is an important element of improving our health care system. It will reduce the harmful effects of smoking, including exposure to second and third-hand smoke, as well as increase safety and reduce fire hazards caused by smoking.”

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Reach Abbie Bennett: or @AbbieRBennett.