DESPITE receiving state government funding to patrol public areas where smoking is banned, the City of Greater Bendigo has not issued any fines to those lighting up outside the hospital.
Under the state Tobacco Act, smoking is banned within four metres of an entrance to a public hospital – however, the city says it only patrols the hospital “at least on a monthly basis”.
Resident Eric Lakey said he regularly saw people smoking directly outside the hospital’s main entrance and urged council to act.
“It is an all-too familiar scene (to see people) puffing away furiously,” he said.
“When will this farce end? Start issuing a few fines and the message might start to get through.”
A Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson said the state government funded the Municipal Association of Victoria to distribute money totalling $1.2 million to local councils on its behalf.
Councils are paid on the basis of activities that are completed, which include a set number of patrols and education programs.
“We (also) made available $400,000 to councils to support the implementation of the smoking bans at entrances to public hospitals,” the spokesperson said.
The City of Greater Bendigo receives approximately $24,000 each year to undertake sales to minors test purchasing, provide educational visits to retailers and ensure eating and drinking establishments are compliant.
The funds are also used for patrols of local playgrounds, swimming pools, underage sporting activities, skate parks, the entrance to the hospital, childcare centres and schools
DHSS says the council must complete at least 48 smoking patrol visits to outdoor areas annually, however the City of Greater Bendigo was unable to say how many of those visits during the past year were to Bendigo hospital.
The organisation must also patrol retailers and eating and drinking establishments at least 36 times each, annually.
City of Greater Bendigo safe and healthy environments manager Caroline Grylls said staff from the safe and healthy environments team had a presence in the Bendigo Hospital precinct on a daily basis but not always in relation to smoking laws.
“Patrols relating specifically to smoking are undertaken at least on a monthly basis,” she said.
“The frequency varies a lot depending on available staff, requests from Bendigo Health and others, seasonal trends and observations of other council staff.”
Ms Grylls said council had officers with powers to enforce most smoking bans but that the hospital was responsible for enforcing its own smoke-free policy.
“Where a site has implemented its own smoke-free policy, such as Bendigo Health, it is not enforceable by council officers,” Ms Grylls said.
“Entrances to Bendigo Hospital are included as one of the outdoor areas periodically patrolled by council officers.”
The city has not issued any fines in relation to smoking during the past year.
“Officers focus on education where a breach of the law is observed, instead of issuing a fine,” Ms Grylls said.
“There are (four-metre exclusion zone) lines clearly marked on the pavement at the hospital entrance and most people do respect this.”
Council’s smoking law education is not directed to the general public with efforts consisting of educational visits to tobacco retailers and eating and drinking establishments to ensure they understand the legislation and their obligations.
Smoking etiquette has improved at hospital
A Bendigo Health spokesperson said improved signs around the hospital and more designated smoking areas encouraged better smoking etiquette.
Bendigo Health security does not have the power to fine smokers.
“Part of the role of security at Bendigo Health is to direct people who smoke to the butt bins, to support a safe and healthy environment for all,” the spokesperson said.
“Those who do choose to smoke are encouraged to do so at butt bin sites along Drought Street.
“We appreciate when smokers show smoking etiquette by acknowledging smoke drift and responsible disposal of butts.”
Australian Medical Association of Victoria president Lorraine Baker said difficulties could arise in enforcing smoking bans around hospitals.
"Feedback from our membership suggests they have been worrying about (enforcing the bans) for a long time," she said.
"Some have been and avoiding confrontation with people in hospital settings unless feel they protected.
"It's not like speed cameras where someone (is identified) by a number plate and the fine can be posted to them. Someone must deliberately approach (a smoker).
"Most of the time peope are abiding by the rules but there are exceptions."
Dr Baker said support from local governments was important.
"There may not be funds for around the clock service but if fines could be enforced, it might provide income for that service," she said.
"Each health services is unique with their entrances, boundaries and public areas. Some have clear signs erected all around the perimetre and have staff circulating."