The research reported here highlights the value mental health professionals place on working in a smoke-free environment, as well as confirming that most staff do not experience negative outcomes in terms of patient care or behaviour. The smoking rate among staff was slightly lower than the Australian rate of 15.1% for adults over 14 years of age , and the rate described for mental health inpatient staff reported in similar studies [17, 28–30]. Among staff who had quit, a small number had quit since commencing work at the smoke-free facility. Implementation of smoke-free workplace policies have demonstrated reductions in staff smoking rates particularly when they incorporate a comprehensive approach including staff education and support . The results observed in this study may reflect this reduction, although there may also be an effect of self selection among staff applying to work at the smoke-free hospital, resulting in smaller numbers of smokers. Restricting smoking among staff and treatment of nicotine dependence are important aspects of effective policy implementation . Tobacco use by staff can act as a barrier to implementing smoke-free policies and supporting patients to quit [5, 26, 27]. A totally smoke-free workplace provides additional incentives to quit by limiting opportunities to smoke and creating a non-smoking culture within the setting.
Only one third of staff felt that smoking staff received adequate support from the hospital. This response came from both smokers and non-smokers, but was significantly lower among staff who smoked. Bloor et al.  evaluated the impact of a non-smoking policy on the smoking behaviour of mental health nurses and their attitudes to smoking bans. While nurses accepted the necessity of smoking bans, they felt that there was insufficient support provided for staff to quit smoking. Acknowledgement by hospital management of the significance of tobacco addiction, provision of accessible treatment and therapy options for smokers , and clear communication around the smoking policy from the time of employment are important aspects of effective policy implementation.
Consistent with other studies, staff who smoked were less likely to respond positively to working in a smoke-free environment [12, 19, 23, 27, 31, 34, 35]. Relatively small numbers of staff were concerned about working in the smoke-free hospital before they commenced their employment. This was however higher in smokers and may be due to concerns about restrictions to their own smoking as well as perceptions of potentially increased patient aggression and loss of smoking as a management tool; views also held more strongly by staff who smoked in other studies [12, 19, 30]. Most staff felt that providing nicotine dependence treatment was as important as other roles in the unit, but fewer felt confident to do so. Policies should ensure provision of training and ongoing support for staff in the management of patient withdrawal and smoking cessation, within a comprehensive approach that also acknowledges and responds to staff smoking behaviour [6, 16, 32]. Acknowledging the impact of personal beliefs and knowledge on provision of smoking cessation support to patients is an important component of policy implementation . Providing accessible cessation support to staff who smoke, and education related smoking and smoking cessation for all staff, may contribute to a culture that promotes health and enables staff to carry out their role within a smoke-free environment .
Just over one third of respondents believed that patients should not be forced to stop smoking, with significantly higher rates among smokers. The question of patient rights has been raised consistently as one of the barriers to implementing smoking bans in mental health inpatient facilities, along with the argument that smoking is used as self medication and that quitting will interfere with recovery [10, 14, 36]. While staff in mental health facilities have concerns related to rights, concerns are also held about tobacco’s highly addictive nature and it’s severe health consequences, from which disproportionately high numbers of patients with mental illness will die [10, 37]. Prochaska  describes the perceived importance of tobacco in self medication and recovery as examples of “prevailing myths” about smoking and mental illness which are not supported by evidence [14, 32]. Allowing patients to smoke during limited breaks, as a response to the issue of patient rights, adds to the regularity and persistence of nicotine withdrawal, undermines the treatment of substance abuse, and fails to provide patients with the opportunity to experience a smoke-free environment and life without smoking [10, 32]. In their analysis of perceptions held by health care providers in the community mental health system, Johnson et al.  describe the discourses of tobacco as “therapeutic” and “an individual choice” as barriers to changing culture and practice in mental health care settings. Understanding the beliefs, culture and work environment of individual mental health care settings is an important component of policy implementation . Ongoing education that challenges beliefs based on misinformation and reflects the local context may enhance staff engagement with policy implementation.
Over half of the survey respondents believed that the smoke-free environment made patient care easier. Moss et al.  describe the time spent by staff distributing and collecting cigarettes and lighting materials before and after each smoking break and supervising patients during the break as a negative outcome of allowing smoking in an inpatient facility. Implementation of a total smoking ban can save staff time, as provision of NRT, counseling and supporting patients takes less time than that required to supervise smoking [32, 36]. Relatively small numbers of staff believed that patient behaviour had become more difficult to manage or that patients had become more aggressive. Published evaluations of smoke-free policies do not support an increase in violence and aggression following the implementation of smoking bans in mental health inpatient facilities [8, 19, 20, 36, 38]. In the small number of cases where there have been issues associated with patient aggression, reports suggest these could have been avoided with appropriate planning, and patient and staff preparation and training [33, 38, 39]. A total ban rather than a partial ban is more likely to be effective, providing consistency and avoiding the negative consequences of persistent nicotine withdrawal, management of smoking issues, fire risk and continued exposure to environmental tobacco smoke [4, 10]. Consistent with the literature, smokers in this study were less likely to find patient care easier under a ban and were more likely to feel that there were problems with patient aggression [34, 37]. As described in the literature, some staff in mental health facilities still feel that they can build rapport and develop a therapeutic relationship by smoking with patients [10, 15]. While this is not a widely held view, it reflects a smoking culture that persists among some staff in mental health facilities. Alternative strategies to assess risk, manage, communicate and negotiate with patients should continue to be actively presented as more therapeutic options for staff.
The widely held perception that the smoke-free environment had a positive effect on staff and patient health provides additional support for smoke-free environments in mental health inpatient facilities. Smoking staff were less likely to agree that there had been positive health benefits, particularly in relation to their own health. Given the perceived lack of support, staff who smoke are unlikely to feel their health has improved as stress related to limitations placed on their smoking behaviour increases. Acknowledgement by management of the issues for smokers and the provision of appropriate support are aspects of policy implementation that may enhance engagement of staff who smoke.
Just under half of the survey respondents felt that mental health inpatients were unlikely to quit long term, with smoking staff significantly more pessimistic than non-smoking staff. Many people with mental illness do however want to quit and have been shown to have fairly high quit rates [2, 4, 14, 28, 32]. The impact of short term stays in non-smoking inpatient facilities on quitting is low, with the majority of patients returning to smoking on discharge [38, 40]. In our follow-up (average 305 days post discharge) of a small sample of patients discharged to other mental health facilities where smoking was possible off site, 7 (58%) had remained non smokers . The sample was small and the results are a likely reflection of relatively long inpatient stays experienced by the respondents. The results do however reflect the potential for long term cessation among people with severe mental illness [13, 14, 32]. People with a mental illness are likely to need additional support to quit long term, although paradoxically, they tend to be offered less support by health care providers [6, 13, 22]. Ensuring staff have the motivation, training and resources to provide information, support and access to NRT while residing in, and on discharge from, the mental health facility will be critical to long term smoking cessation by patients.
This study has a number of limitations. The return rate for the staff survey was 50% which is lower than rates reported elsewhere [17, 31, 34]. Staff were encouraged using different strategies over a number of weeks to complete and return the survey; the moderate return rate may indicate that the issue of smoking within the hospital is not a priority for many staff. While information on the demographics of those who did not return the survey was not available, gender and professional groupings represented by survey respondents reflected the distribution within the hospital. It is possible that non smokers may have been more likely to respond to the survey resulting in a relatively low smoking rate among staff. However given the responses of smokers to survey questions, it is likely that both smokers and non smokers felt comfortable responding to the anonymous survey and used it as an opportunity to express their views. The small number of smokers within the survey population is a limitation of the statistical analysis. The results of this study do however reflect findings of similar studies of attitudes of smokers and non-smokers [23, 24]. Further, the application of these results to other mental health inpatient facilities is limited due to the unique nature of the hospital being a long stay, high secure facility. The fact that the hospital was opened as totally smoke-free facility from the outset may have influenced the make-up of the staff, with self selection of non-smoking staff on recruitment. It should be noted however that many staff (and patients) were transferred to the hospital from the correctional setting, where only partial bans applied, when the hospital opened.