County considers ban on smoking

September 18, 2012 12:00 am  •  Hannah Gaber For The Arizona Daily Star

Pima County employees might soon have good reason to take a smoking break – or more accurately, take a break from smoking.

If the Board of Supervisors agrees later this year, smoking will be forbidden on or near any properties owned or operated by the county. The gathering of workers – and accompanying blue-gray cloud – just beyond the door to many county buildings would be history.

The change from simply having smoke-free buildings to no smoking anywhere, at any time, would apply to employees and visitors to county properties.

Ultimately, the ban could include testing employees for tobacco use if they are covered under the county insurance plan.

County workers who were taking a smoke break just outside the county’s downtown complex last week declined to talk about the threatened new rules.

The new “tobacco-free environment” proposal is intended to trim health-care costs and promote healthier lifestyles in the workplace, according to County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. He sees the move as part of a continuum “towards an environment that in the next five years or so will be completely tobacco-free, for health reasons.”

One concern yet to be resolved is what to do about people, such as jurors, who are obligated to be on county property but not of their own choice. Will they be forced to follow the same rules? Huckelberry suggests exceptions in these cases.

But when it comes to infringing on employees’ private choices by banning and testing for tobacco, he says, “We would agree … if the public didn’t pay about three-quarters of health insurance costs. If you pay your own health insurance costs, do whatever you like.”

Huckelberry says similar measures already are in place in Maricopa County. Health insurer Humana stopped hiring smokers in Arizona in 2011, and Sarasota County, Fla., instituted a tobacco-free hiring policy this year.

The current proposal would begin as an honor system, says Allyn Bulzomi, human resources director for Pima County. “We are not asking employees to become enforcers,” he says. “In fact, we’d rather they didn’t.”

He sees the county as responsible for setting an example, but it is “not going to set up a smoking police.”

Currently, the Human Resources Department is collecting feedback from county department heads and employees. Depending on responses, Bulzomi says a survey of county workers might follow.

Bulzomi and Huckelberry expect it will be at least December or January before any change is implemented.

Hannah Gaber is a University of Arizona student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at starapprentice@azstarnet.com or 573-4117.

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