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Smoking and hospitalisation: harnessing medical ethics and harm reduction

Abstract

As resident physicians practicing Internal Medicine in hospitals within the USA, we are confronted on a daily basis with patients who wish to leave the hospital floor to smoke a cigarette. While many physicians argue that hospitals should do everything in their power to prevent patients from smoking, we argue that a more comprehensive and nuanced approach is needed. In part 1 of this perspective piece, we outline the various forms of smoking bans in hospital settings, applauding the development of indoor smoking bans while questioning the move towards stricter, campus-wide smoking bans. In part 2, we turn to traditional biomedical ethics to guide our approach to the hospitalised patient who smokes. This approach, which is informed by our backgrounds in harm reduction and medical anthropology, takes into account the lived realities of patients and acknowledges the complicated sociohistorical contexts of tobacco use.

  • ethics
  • substance abusers/users of controlled substances
  • philosophy of medicine
  • health care for specific diseases/groups
  • autonomy
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