A sign is displayed at the Cheyenne Veterans Affairs Medical Center informing residents and visitors of a smoking ban on VA property that is set to begin Tuesday. Tom Coulter/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – In keeping with a new federal policy, the Cheyenne Veterans Affairs Medical Center will ban smoking on its property starting Tuesday.

“Medical centers and clinics across the country have been smoke-free for the last 10 years,” said Chad Cartwright, associate director of the facility. “We’re really just getting up to par with them.”

But some veterans and employees aren’t happy about the ban, and facility administrators are trying to accommodate them with smoking cessation options, including nicotine replacement patches and over-the-counter medication.

“There’s a good chunk of the smokers that are upset, and I get it,” Cartwright said. “You can offer smoking cessation, but if you don’t want to quit, you’re not going to quit.”

The facility is one of about 140 VA centers nationwide instituting the ban. Dennis Hahn, a veteran who has been coming to the Cheyenne facility for 25 years, said he heard about the change a few months ago.

“I don’t think it’s right,” Hahn said. “You’re here because you don’t feel good anyway, and now you can’t go outside and smoke. That’s not good for anybody.”

Hahn has been smoking for about 50 years. Rather than go off the facility to smoke like other veterans and employees, he simply doesn’t smoke when he comes to the facility from his home in Peetz, Colorado.

Others, however, are at the facility nearly every day. Vicki Woods, a facility nurse who works on employee health, said workers trying to quit can take a free class to help them.

“I’ve come across people who’ve smoked since they were 12, and they’re 60-something years old,” Woods said. “All their lives they’ve never tried to quit, and they’re trying now.”

Leah Duckworth, a medical support assistant who smokes, said she wasn’t as worried for herself as she was for the veterans.

“You have people who get up in the middle of the night and go smoke ... because they live here,” Duckworth said. “I think it’s a great idea, but I just thought of them.”

Duckworth is currently going through the smoking cessation program, though she admitted it’s tough.

“I started the classes about three weeks ago,” she said. “I’m on day two of no smoking. There’s a lot of people that are very, very frustrated, but I don’t see it as a frustration.”

With the ban set to take effect Tuesday, administrators were excited to see the potential long-term benefits.

“If we can get a few people to quit smoking, especially now vaping, we’re saving them money over the long run, saving the government and taxpayers money in the long run, because from insurance and health perspectives, it benefits,” Cartwright said.

“Any time change occurs, it affects somebody, so it’s going to take some time.”

Tom Coulter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at tcoulter@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @tomcoulter_.

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