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Smoking vs. non-smoking in county buildings

SCHUYLER COUNTY—No smoking regulations on all Schuyler County office property is in the works. Schuyler County Legislators discussed the smoking ban that would include the County Office Building, Human Services Building in Montour Falls, Shared Public Works Facility, and Mill Creek Center in Watkins Glen, at their Legislative Resolution Review meeting on Wednesday, April 7. If passed, the new law will be in effect within the next few months.
The county is working toward better public health for the public and its employees to help bring down health insurance costs for employees. According to the American Cancer Society, lung and bronchus cancer represents 15.3 percent of all cases of cancer and 32.2 percent of all cancer deaths in Schuyler County. Not all lung and bronchus cancer is caused by smoking; however, tobacco use is a main contributor. It does indicate there is a crucial need for prevention and cessation of tobacco use. Smoking sensation programs in Schuyler County are offered to the public and employees at no charge, but are not well attended. It is hoped this smoking ban will help these prevention and cessation efforts.
“I think we need to have an agreement based on our overall discussion regarding health, health care, and health insurance, clearly smoking is a big part of it, and I think people need to understand that there’s a reason why we would be doing this. It’s not just because we don’t like smokers,” Legislator Barbara Halpin said.
If the ban is enacted, Schuyler County employees will be most affected, because most full-time employees are on county office property all day and some part-time employees are on county office property for hours. Legislator Glenn Larison said employees could easily get off county office property within their 15 minute breaks by simply going for a walk down the street. However, this could be an issue during cold winter months.
According to County Administrator Tim O’Hearn, employees have been notified of the possible smoking ban, and feedback has been mixed. “People who smoke feel that their rights are being infringed upon,” he said.
Smoking is currently prohibited within 50 feet of the entryways to county buildings, and the use of any form of tobacco is prohibited inside all county-owned, leased, operated or controlled buildings, county-owned vehicles, means of mass transportation operated by the county, and any other areas where the use of tobacco is prohibited by fire codes or state regulations. These regulations were added to the county’s smoking policy Feb. 11, 2008.
The current smoking policy states that department heads and Schuyler County Sheriff’s Office are responsible for enforcing the policy within all areas in county buildings, corridors, meeting places, public and employee entrances. A smoking ban like this would be delegated by local health department, but the county doesn’t have an environmental health agency, so technically the state health department will be the enforcement agency.
According to O’Hearn, smokeless tobacco continues to be offensive to people, which means the current tobacco policy isn’t being enforced. He believes enforcement of this new ban could be an issue.
“I think enforcement is going to be no different than our current policy. If we see people smoking on (the Schuyler County office) campus, talk to them or notify the security,” Legislator Dennis Fagan said.
 “We are going to have to step up our department efforts in making sure everyone is in compliance with the existing policy,” O’Hearn said. He also added that enforcement can’t only penalize employees or single them out.
New York State already has smoking regulations in public and work places including bars, food service establishments, non-profit membership associations, school grounds, certain places of employment, enclosed public areas, public means of transportation, youth centers, child care facilities, public institutions, private and public colleges and universities, hospitals, residential health care facilities, commercial establishments, zoos and other public areas. Schuyler County Legislators mentioned that smoking bans have become a cultural thing like not smoking on school or hospital grounds, a few fines have been given out and people have complained but they have complied as well.
“If you’re (the Schuyler County Legislature) going to do this it needs to be done in a broad base and certainly for health reason but more on the basis of nonsmokers and smokers, people subjected to second hand smoke, that’s a public health issue. There are demonstrated health consequences to second hand smoke and the only way to avoid that is to eliminate the possibility of having it,” O’Hearn said.
“It is part of our overall concern for the general health of our employees and the public,” Fagan said.
A local law will have to be put in place in order to enact the smoking ban.
The issue has been sent back to the management and finance committee set for Wednesday, April 28, to be further discussed and worked on. The law could then be voted on at the next Schuyler County Legislature meeting Monday, May 10 or be set back to committee for more work at the end of May.


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