Background: Mental health units have usually been exempted from complete smoke-free policies. The aim of this study was to compare the self-reported level of exposure to secondhand smoke (SHS) of patients and staff in psychiatric units to objective measures, and examine preference for different types of smoking bans.
Methods: Cross-sectional survey about ban preferences and self-reported exposure to SHS by means of a self-administered questionnaire administered to patients and staff from 65 inpatient psychiatric units in Catalonia (95.5% of all units). We measured air concentrations of particulate matter ≤ 2.5 μm (PM2.5 in µg/m(3)) as a marker of SHS in these units.
Results: 600 patients and 575 professionals completed the questionnaire. 78.7% of them were objectively exposed to SHS (PM2.5>10 μm/m(3)) but 56.9% of patients and 33.6% of staff believed they were not exposed at all and 41.6% of patients and 28.4% of staff believed the environment was not at all unhealthy. Nurses had a higher smoking prevalence than psychiatrists (35.8% vs 17.2%; p<0.001), and nurses had a higher perception of being moderately highly exposed to SHS (40.3% vs 26.2%; p<0.001). PM2.5 levels were significantly different depending on the type of smoking ban implemented but unrelated to the perception of SHS levels by both patients and staff. Only 29.3% of staff and 14.1% of patients strongly supported total smoking bans.
Conclusions: Patients and staff have substantial misperceptions about the extent of their exposure to SHS and low awareness about the harmful environment in which they stay/work. This might have an influence on the preference for less restrictive smoke-free bans. It is particularly noteworthy that less that one-third of mental health staff supported smoke-free units, suggesting an urgent need for further education about the harmful health effects of SHS.
Keywords: Health Services; Priority/special populations; Public policy; Secondhand smoke.
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