Mille Lacs County considers tobacco-free facilities

The Association for Nonsmokers-Minnesota presented information to the Mille Lacs County Board at its March 1 meeting about how and why the county should implement completely tobacco-free grounds.
As it is, county buildings are smoke-free workplaces where people must be outside the building and 50 feet from the entrance in order to smoke. With a tobacco-free grounds policy, there would be zero tobacco of any form on county property, including regular and electronic cigarettes (vaporized nicotine), chewing tobacco and snuff.
Emily Anderson of the association and Mille Lacs County Health Educator Alisha Voigt said the policy works to reduce tobacco use among populations and said they have a lot of experience with these policies. They try to change the norms around tobacco use, which involves limiting access through higher prices, promoting positive nonsmoking role models, eliminating secondhand smoke and reducing cigarette litter.
“Cigarette butts are the No. 1 litter in the world,” Anderson said.
She said people support the tobacco-free policy, especially young families who don’t want their kids to get the idea it’s OK to smoke. Anderson said of Minnesota’s 87 counties, about 25 of them have campuses that are 100 percent tobacco free. She said the policy is sometimes required to apply for some types of grants.
Exceptions to the policy, said Anderson, are smoking-cessation products, such as nicotine gum, patches and lozenges, as well as Native Americans who can get a release beforehand to use it as part of a ceremony.
Anderson said the policy focuses on tobacco use and the rights of the public, not on the individual rights of the tobacco user. She said the policy is meant to help smokers quit, not to penalize them. Research has shown, she said, that allowing fewer opportunities to smoke decreases the rate of tobacco use.
Commissioner Genny Reynolds asked about evidence of the program’s effectiveness, and Anderson said there are not area-specific numbers but general statistics for the state that show a reduction. Reynolds said even on campuses that are tobacco free, there are people standing in places away from the property to smoke and she asked how that affects morale and what kind of impression it makes.
Anderson said the policy doesn’t seem to affect morale if there is support for those quitting and cutting down. She said it is not “about shunning them but helping.”
The county’s human resources director, Lisa Herges, said a tobacco-free policy helped one of her family members quit and she thinks it can have a positive effect. On the other hand, there are some issues with enforcement of the smoke-free policy already in effect. She said some people smoke near the door, which probably doesn’t agree with most visitors, and it is a goal of the wellness committee to reduce smoking as much as possible.
Commissioner Phil Peterson pre-empted his comment by saying he knew it wasn’t politically correct but he is not offended by cigarette smoke as long as it isn’t blown in his face. He said he’s amazed at all the young people he sees smoking and asked about education in the schools and where the kids get the tobacco.
Herges confirmed that in past compliance checks, 70-80 percent of the minors who attempted to buy tobacco were allowed to purchase it. She suggested that maybe kids need to hear the message that “we care about them and don’t want them to smoke.”
Board Chairman Roger Tellinghuisen said the wellness committee would be a good entity to examine the issues, so it will review the potential, tobacco-free workplace policy and make a recommendation.
Anderson provided literature, such as a sample policy and list of answers to frequently asked questions, among them that a tobacco-free workplace policy must be negotiated with unionized employees.

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