PREGNANT women, new mothers and visitors will be banned from smoking on the grounds of the country's three main maternity hospitals from tomorrow.
The zero tolerance rule will mean the women will either have to stop lighting up or leave the hospital grounds if they want a cigarette.
The ban, which also applies to staff, is being enforced at the Rotunda Hospital, Coombe Hospital and the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin city.
Dr Sam Coulter-Smith, master of the Rotunda Hospital, yesterday helped to demolish the smoking hut on the grounds of the hospital and said women who wanted to smoke would have to go on to the street.
Although the hospital will offer women support and provide guidance on how to give up, he said it could not afford to stock nicotine replacement patches for those who need relief for cravings.
"We will be doing our best to support people but we don't have the money in our budget for that.
"People will be supported by staff at their outpatient visits and will be shown where they can go for help," he said.
Dr Coulter-Smith who has repeatedly highlighted the funding, staff and infrastructure pressures on the hospital said "money has not followed the patient" despite the high birth numbers.
Smoking is the biggest cause of ill-health and death in Ireland. Smoking during pregnancy can seriously affect both a woman's own health and her baby's development. Even stopping smoking in the last few weeks of pregnancy can still benefit both mother and baby.
A spokesman for the Coombe said: "Smoking is one of the leading causes of death and illness. As a HSE-funded hospital, it has an obligation to everyone to address this critical public health issue.
"We are not asking people to stop smoking – however the policy will require those who smoke to refrain from smoking while on the hospital campus."
The National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street confirmed that patients and visitors could no longer avail of the smoking shelter at the back of the hospital.
Smoking will not be permitted at the front of the hospital either.
Several acute hospitals around the country have already banned smoking and the HSE aims to have the rule imposed nationwide by 2015.