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Smoking on its way out at New Hampshire Veterans Home

The New Hampshire Veterans Home is now smoke-free – almost.

Directors of the assisted-living facility in Tilton, which houses about 190 state veterans, banned the use of cigarettes in all areas of its 27-acre campus last month, excluding a handful of residents who are permitted to smoke outdoors, at least 25 feet from the nearest building.

The policy change was announced last July, and the delay was meant to give residents and staff time to quit, should they choose to do so.

Only veterans who were admitted to the home before October are allowed to continue the habit. Anne Howe, director of resident care services, said she knew of fewer than 10 residents who still smoke, and one who had quit after the policy was announced, though that was more at the behest of a medical professional.

Staff members have also offered residents help in quitting, and continue to permit the use of electronic cigarettes outside at certain times, Howe said.

In a recent newsletter, Commandant Margaret LaBrecque wrote that the move had been prompted by reports of smoking-related accidents at other health-care facilities, and by ongoing concern for the health of residents, both those who smoke and those who don’t.

“Such small sacrifices help make life better for those who gave so much for their country,” LaBrecque wrote, adding that the majority of assisted-living facilities in the country have similar policies.

Howe said an additional concern was that new residents who had quit smoking before transferring to the home were at greater risk to slip back into the habit by being around active smokers. She also said staff have yet to turn away anyone because they refused to quit smoking.

But not everyone is supportive of the decision.

“I think it’s wrong,” said Fred Osgood, 88, a World War II veteran who has lived at the home since November. “I think they’re doing an injustice to veterans.”

Osborn said he thought the ban would lead to fewer veterans gaining access to the home’s services, and cited what he described as a prevalence of unfilled rooms as proof.

“The care is excellent, but it seems strange that they discriminate against vets when there are empty beds,” Osgood said.

Howe acknowledged that the facility is not operating at full capacity, but said that has nothing to do with the new smoking policy. There are several reasons why beds become vacant, she said, including limited financial and medical resources.

“We have to be able to meet their needs,” Howe said.

Legislators in June cut $500,000 from the home’s two-year budget.

Before the ban, residents were permitted to smoke indoors in a designated room. That space has been converted for storage. Smokers who want to light up indoors can still do so, in one of two makeshift shelters in the facility’s courtyards – Osborn likened them to chicken coops.

Dianna Maffucci of Pembroke, whose husband, Francis, lives at the facility and hasn’t smoked in years, said she had no strong opinion on the ban, but in general supported it.

“So much of society is non-smoking these days,” she said. “So I think overall, it’s kind of a good idea.”

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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