County smoking policy remains unchanged

After members of the Association of Nonsmokers Minnesota presented information to the Mille Lacs County Board at a March 1 workshop about the possibility of the county adopting a tobacco-free grounds policy, the commissioners voted 4-1 Aug. 2 against adopting the new and more stringent policy.
Existing rules are that smoking must take place at least 50 feet from any building entrance. Mille Lacs County provides employees with two outdoor compliant smoking areas: one at the southeast corner by the Sheriff’s Office and another at the concrete island across from the courthouse and social services building.
The new policy proposed by the association and reviewed, then recommended by the Wellness Committee proposes that there would be no tobacco use allowed on county-owned properties. In addition to cigarettes, the new policy would have prohibited vaporized nicotine, chewing tobacco, dipping snuff and any other forms besides quitting aids, such as nicotine gum, losenges or patches. The only exception would have been that employees could smoke in their private vehicle.
Commissioner Genny Reynolds, who cast the “no” vote, had pulled the item from the board’s Aug. 2 consent agenda and said, “I like the policy but think it’s a little bit harsh.”
Commissioner Phil Peterson said the Wellness Committee should not be wasting time on the policy; he called it an overreach and said it makes “criminals” out of smokers, which isn’t right.
“I don’t think we should have any smoke-free policy; the policy we have in place is good enough,” he said.
Commissioner Tim Wilhelm asked if the current policy had not been working, and County Administrator Pat Oman said not entirely. Counties, cities and other entities can choose to create more-restrictive policies than the state’s default, and Oman said the proposed policy was not “extreme” but was stricter than the current one.
Peterson then moved to not adopt the tobacco-free grounds policy and leave the existing one in place, and Wilhelm seconded to prompt the vote.
Employees provide feedback
Mille Lacs County had solicited feedback from employees about the proposed policy. Within the County Board’s packet was documentation that showed 51 total responses, with 30 employees saying don’t make the policy tougher and 21 saying it is “about time” for a tougher policy. Comment excerpts reveal the concerns.
Support for no
•“This county does not have many employee smokers, and I feel it very unnecessary to make the grounds smoke free. Do you think it will look even better for people to be standing in the street to smoke?”
•“The current policy has been working fine for five years and was run through the employees, labor-management committee and unions. The two sites were set up so that they keep smoke away from public entrances.”
•“We have jurors who smoke when they are here, are we to tell them can’t smoke? Why are the smokers picked on?”
•“Not today. You can take my cigarettes from my cold, dead fingers. I’m not leaving the grounds on my break. Just because some may not use tobacco does not mean you can force your will on those who do.”
•A non-smoker said people would stand in the street like “lawn ornaments” plus take longer on their smoke breaks.
•“Who will enforce/police this policy and who will be picking up all of the cigarette butts while people still smoke, just without ashtrays?”
•“I no longer smoke, but this is still a free country. … Let’s not treat smokers like second-class citizens. … Constantly reminding them that their habit is disgusting and no one wants to be around them won’t help. It’s like fat shaming smokers.”
•“Why would snoose (snus) tobacco need to be banned? … We are not being forced to enact such a policy.”
•“Even though I am not a smoker, I find this policy offensive. Nicotine is a stimulant, so are you going to ban all stimulants? Are you going to ban caffeine?”
•“I feel it will be more detrimental to me to walk by cars where people are smoking. One designated area 50 feet from the building would allow me an area to avoid. … It is also in the proposed policy that it is everyone’s responsibility to enforce the policy. Again, as a nonsmoker, I will not confront co-workers or visitors on their tobacco use.”
•“If smokers are asked to smoke in their vehicles, they will smell more like smoke than if they are allowed to smoke outside.”
•“I absolutely do not support tobacco-free grounds. People who do smoke are not smoking in front of the exits/entrances.”
•“What will happen with clients’ cigarette butts when they do not respect that it is a tobacco-free grounds? Or if they do step off county property to smoke, will that be a nuisance to neighboring houses?”
•“All smokers know the risks by now. Leave them alone and quit taking away their rights.”
•“Our jobs are incredibly stressful and difficult at times, smoking for some, is the only way to deal with that stress.”
•“This proposed policy is silly and will not stop people from smoking. And our clients will continue to smoke outside regardless of the policy.”
Support for yes
•“Please include vaping in this policy,” because it affects people with respiratory problems and the scent remains in upholstery and carpet.
•“I think it’s a great idea; the county should lead by example.”
•Another said people visiting the campus “should not have to walk through smoke with their children.”
•“This is a long-overdue policy. As a county known for high tobacco use including juveniles, we should be leading by example.”
•“Fully support!”
•“This a great idea, thanks.”
•“It should be tobacco free.”
•“I am tired of having to walk through cigarette smoke in order to get into work. … I have a right to smoke-free air.”
•“Good idea, and I say this as an occasional smoker. Do it. Good luck with enforcement of it though.”
•“I 100 percent support the tobacco-free grounds policy. Perhaps in the future the allowance to smoke in personal vehicles can be removed also.”
•“I think this is wonderful. I just hope it will be enforced as the current 50-feet-from-the-door rule is not enforced nor followed.”
•“Good to see the county taking this step. Not only because of the negative health issues but because of the lost productivity that comes from the numerous smoke breaks taken throughout the day.”
•“I think the tobacco-free grounds policy is absolutely fantastic! It protects the nonsmokers and children from detrimental secondhand smoke. … We are a public health agency and I truly believe ‘what we permit we promote,’ and we definitely don’t want to be promoting unhealthy behaviors in an agency that was established to help people.”