Windsor, Ontario - hospital halts practice of using cigarettes to help calm mentally ill patients..

November 30, 2010 - Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital in Windsor, Ontario. The hospital CEO Warren Chant. "I was quite surprised," said Chant, who is quoted in the news release from the Ontario PC (Progressive Conservative Party of Canada) caucus, saying "'it is not an unusual practice' for hospitals to hand out cigarettes."

"That is totally taken out of context," Chant told The Star. The PCs claimed in a news conference that Hotel-Dieu distributes cigarettes to lure patients into its emergency department.

But hospital spokeswoman Luann Kapasi said what really happened -- until the practice was halted Nov. 4 -- was that mental health outreach workers bringing in a distraught, agitated person occasionally would take the patient outdoors and give him a cigarette to calm him down during a long wait in the ER. "If the person is a smoker and they're overstressed, they'll give them a cigarette," she said. "They're not standing out there handing out cigarettes to people, saying 'Come in to our ER.'"

The program is called COAST, for Community Outreach and Support Team, made up of an outreach worker and a Windsor police officer who respond when there's a call about, for example, a neighbour who's behaving bizarrely. The team makes a visit and, if necessary, can drive a mentally ill person to the ER. The wait to see a doctor could take hours, and if the person is a smoker and needs a cigarette to calm down, it could be supplied. The smokes were donated by a native reserve.

Cigarettes are just one of a number of items that can be offered. Sandwiches, coffee, hygiene products and meal replacement drinks can be given to people described as among the most vulnerable people in our community -- people with acute mental illnesses who aren't accessing the normal community programs.

Reference: Hospital halts using cigarettes to calm patients Tories attack Hotel-Dieu Grace by Brian Cros, Windsor Star, 11/27/2010.