Just a Few Decades Ago, Hospital Candy Stripers Used to Sell Cigarettes to Patients

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Just a few decades ago, hospital candy stripers sold cigarettes to patients in bed. Today, culture has changed so much that at many of the same hospitals, you can’t smoke anywhere on the entire campus.

“It’s absolutely absurd to think there was a time when we actually smoked at the nurses station, sold cigarettes to patients, or bummed a smoke off of patients,” said Dana Siegal, a former nurse who is now director of patient safety for CRICO Strategies.

According to WorkingNurse.com, from the late 1800s until the early 1990s, tobacco was a routine part of the American hospital landscape. Doctors might smoke cigars or pipes while delivering a diagnosis or even while in the operating room.

Nurses routinely smoked in the nurse’s station, during report, while organizing their med carts and sometimes with their patients. Some hospitals had designated smoking lounges next to patient rooms. A compassionate nurse might hold up a cigarette to a dying patient’s tracheotomy tube so that they could take their last puff. Hospitals sometimes sold their patients cigarettes, which were taken into patient rooms on carts, along with chewing gum, toiletries and books. Charge nurses’ offices stocked plenty of ashtrays, often bearing the hospital logo.

“In the 1970s, there was an ashtray on every patient’s nightstand,” Dan Carnithan, a respiratory therapist, said. “The gift shop sold cigarettes with matches… Sounds bizarre now, but that was the way it was back then!”

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