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Doctors slam WA plan to lift smoking bans

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists has voiced its opposition to a parliamentary push to review smoking laws in mental health facilities.

Doctors are urging the West Australian government to dump a proposal to reverse smoking bans in the state's secure mental health units.

Allowing smoking would be a backward step for mental health patients who have higher smoking rates than in the general community, said the WA branch of The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists.

"We need to help people with mental illness stop smoking, not encourage it," said the branch's chair, Dr Alexandra Welborn said in a statement.

She said people with mental illness had high rates of physical illness and higher death rates, with many suffering from smoking-related conditions such as heart disease.

"We do not allow smoking in our general hospitals and should not go against national and international trends to reintroduce smoking in secure mental health facilities," Welborn said.

She said the state's mental health units offered smoking withdrawal, nicotine replacement and education programs to temporarily stop smoking and they increased the likelihood patients would stop smoking altogether.

Debora Colvin, head the Council of Official Visitors, an independent advocacy service for people being treated under the Mental Health Act, said it supported small designated smoking areas for patients.

Its annual report for 20110-2011 reported that the council receives daily complaints about the smoke free policy, which is described by staff and patients as punitive and unsafe.

Shadow WA Mental Health Minister Ljiljanna Ravlich, said hospital staff were exposed to aggressive behaviour when enforcing the bans and a reassessment of the ban was long overdue.

“Cigarettes are exchanged for sexual favours and patients often used electricity outlets to create a spark to light the cigarette,” Ravlich said in a statement.

She said it was hypocritical for the Barnett Government to allow Western Australian prisoners to smoke in designated areas and purchase their own lighters when mental health patients did not have the same rights.

“By the time a mental health patient has been admitted to involuntary care they have already lost many of their rights and we do not want to see them lose more just because they have a mental illness,” she said.

With AAP

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