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Globe editorial

Denying smoking to the mentally ill is oppressive Add to ...

A proposal to prevent mentally ill hospital patients from smoking outside hospital buildings is oppressive. By placing the physical health of patients ahead of their mental health, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, in Toronto, risks making the challenge of treating people with mental health issues all the more daunting.

Despite heavy regulations placed on smoking, and the obvious and serious health risks associated with its use, tobacco remains a legal substance in this country. It is wise to ban smoking indoors, given the risks from second-hand smoke. It is reasonable to ask smokers to keep their habit out of the faces of others by standing well away from building entrances. Together these serve as disincentives to smokers, and serve to protect the health of bystanders while underscoring public concern over the dangers of smoking.

But the additional step of banishing smokers altogether from properties, particularly in the case of mental health facilities where patients will now have to congregate on sidewalks, will surely add to the anxiety and treatment challenge for those already coping with major mental illnesses.

Curiously, the most vulnerable in society seem to be singled out for heavy-handed tactics. Municipalities across Canada have begun insisting that new public-housing tenants give up smoking at home, or lose access to a critical government-provided benefit. Now, CAMH is telling people with mental health challenges, people who have a psychological dependency on cigarettes that goes deeper than that of others, and who derive comfort from smoking - one, possibly, of very few comforts in their lives - that they face a new daunting obstacle to their treatment.

It is only reasonable to conclude that the measure will serve to kick out a crutch from under those seeking treatment for mental health issues. Is that really a price worth paying for a little finger-wagging?

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