Former police officer Gregor McFarlane is back on the beat again – but this time he’s advising people, rather than sticking to the letter of the law. For Gregor has been as NHS Forth Valley’s new tobacco control officer and is busy patrolling hospital grounds throughout the area, asking people to stub out their cigarettes and directing them towards services to help them quit.
Every morning at eight o-clock, Gregor begins his task of trying to educate people about the dangers of smoking. Although he’s based mainly at Forth Valley Royal Hospital, his area also includes Falkirk and Stirling Community Hospitals and Clackmannanshire Community Healthcare Centre.
“To go across to people and say Oi! You! is definitely not the right approach when we are trying to raise awareness that people should not be subjected to second hand smoke. All smokers know that tobacco is not good for them, but neither is it good for all the patients, staff and visitors who have to battle against a fug of smoke from people standing near hospital and ward entrances.”
Gregor worked for Central Police for 30 years, latterly as Community Sergeant in Callander. He was responsible for the day to day running of Operation Ironworks – a campaign to discourage anti-social behaviour in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.
Patrolling the shores of Lochs Lomond, Vennacher, Voil, Earn and Lubnaig, he encouraged campers to respect the countryside, behave responsibly by not dropping litter and warned them of the dangers of fire risks. He also offered friendly advice on how to enjoy the National Park.
It was Operation Ironworks and his love of working with the public, which helped hone his skills for his current appointment. “What attracted me to apply was probably being able to be out and about, rather than stuck in an office in front of a computer. I intend to work a shift pattern eventually, including backshifts and weekends, because a hospital doesn’t operate from nine until five. People can light up in the grounds almost round the clock.”
To date, Gregor has generally found patients, visitors and staff, receptive to his request to stub it out. He said: “I’ve have had a couple of people who have just turned their back on me and walked away” he said. Others have argued that by asking them to put their cigarette out I am breaching their human rights. My answer to that is that by smoking, they are infringing other people’s human rights – the right to fresh, clean air.” The Government’s also plans to make all hospital grounds across Scotland smoke free by March 2015.
Gregor hopes in future to be able to hand out cards with contact details for local pharmacies where nicotine replacement therapy is available. He will also input into an Ipad about whether people want to quit, and what sort of responses he is getting to his suggestions about smoking cessation services. This information, when analysed, will provide valuable information to help shape local services.