Politics & Government

Expanded smoking ban on most state property has some government workers fuming

Students smoking before  the UK smoking ban starts the day of the Great American Smoke-out photographed on Thursday  November 12, 2009 in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Students smoking before the UK smoking ban starts the day of the Great American Smoke-out photographed on Thursday November 12, 2009 in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

FRANKFORT — On most workdays outside the mammoth building that houses the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, dozens of state employees spend their twice-a-day, 15-minute breaks smoking.

That activity will be snuffed out for good on Thursday, when the use of cigarettes and all other tobacco products, as well as e-cigarettes, will be banned on most state property, both indoors and outside.

Some state workers are fuming about it.

"It feels like discrimination against smokers," said state worker Andrea Schank of Frankfort, who was smoking during a break last week outside the state human resources building.

She said state workers there will have to walk about a half-mile to smoke.

"By the time you walk there and walk back, much of your break is gone," Schank said.

Gov. Steve Beshear specifically chose to start the new policy on Nov. 20 to coincide with the annual Great American Smokeout, an event sponsored by the American Cancer Society to encourage Americans to stop smoking.

Kentucky leads all states in smoking and cancer deaths, Beshear said in justifying his executive order to stop smoking on most state property.

Under the new rules, employees and visitors to executive branch agencies of state government won't be able to light up or chew tobacco in state-owned or state-leased buildings, in state-owned vehicles or on state property — including parking lots, sidewalks and green space under the control of the executive branch of government.

The policy affects 2,888 state-owned buildings and 568 state-leased buildings, said State Personnel Secretary Tim Longmeyer.

The few exceptions to Beshear's order include state parks, the Kentucky Horse Park, the Kentucky State Fairgrounds, Bluegrass Station, wildlife management areas, state rest areas, Department of Military Affairs training centers and armories, and certain state residential health centers. The order does not apply to universities, but all universities except Western Kentucky and Murray State already have some form of tobacco limits.

Beshear also does not have the authority to ban smoking on property overseen by the judicial and legislative branches of government, or constitutional officers.

About a dozen state employees who were smoking last week on their breaks outside the state human resources building said they were unhappy with the new policy. Only one would identify herself and none would allow a photo to be taken of them while smoking. They said they feared retribution. All of them said the state should provide a designated area for smokers.

Longmeyer said there will be no designated areas for smokers.

"We don't want to expend resources to make it easier for people to smoke," said Longmeyer, who stopped smoking about 6 years ago.

Longmeyer said he understands that smoking is physically addictive, "but we are helping people to stop."

The state has worked out most of the details of the policy, which can be found at https://tobacco-free.ky.gov, but Longmeyer acknowledged that there will be "a learning curve" on the policy's implementation and enforcement.

Betsy Janes, coordinator for the Smoke-Free Kentucky Coalition, said Beshear's policy is designed to create a healthy workforce and it is correct in not designating smoking areas for state workers.

To those workers who complain about having to walk off state property to smoke, she said, "I would tell them that exercise is good for you."

David Smith, president of the Kentucky Association of State Employees, takes a different view. He said the administration should realize that employees must feel valued "to provide the best level of customer service."

He said state workers who smoke should have a designated area and called the state's ban on smoking in personal cars on state property "really invasive."

"We're not talking entrance ways, just something reasonable," he said of possible designated smoking areas.

Calls to legislative branch officials seeking details about any possible changes to the smoking policy for legislative workers were not returned.

The state Administrative Office of the Courts, which assists the judicial branch and is based in Frankfort, already is a tobacco-free campus.

In judicial centers that are 100 percent occupied by the courts, smoking policies are set at local levels by the chief circuit judges. In facilities where the courts share space with others, such as county government offices, chief circuit judges may set policies for only for parts of the buildings occupied by the courts system.

All constitutional officers except Agriculture Commissioner James Comer have told Beshear they will abide by the ban. Comer's office did not reply to a call seeking comment last week.

State government is the largest employer in Kentucky, and the tobacco-free rule will affect about 33,000 state workers, plus hundreds of thousands of visitors to state offices and properties.

If state workers do not follow the policy, disciplinary action might be considered, Longmeyer said. Nearly 5,000 executive branch state workers report they use tobacco, and their health care costs average 20 percent more than those who do not report tobacco use.

Currently, all executive branch buildings in Kentucky are smoke-free inside because of an executive order in 2006 under then-Gov. Ernie Fletcher. Beshear's order expands that policy.

Temporary signs advising the new tobacco-free standard were posted Thursday on the entrances of all executive branch buildings. Permanent stickers will be placed on doors and driveways leading to the buildings on Nov. 20.

Kentucky is the fifth state to adopt such a policy. The others are Delaware, Oklahoma, Oregon and South Dakota.