Pasco may snuff out smoking in county buildings
DADE CITY -
All county-owned buildings could be tobacco-free if Pasco commissioners adopt a new wellness program aimed at lowering the county’s health care costs.
“I don’t have a problem with it,” smoker Angela Boggs said outside the Robert Sumner Judicial Center in Dade City. “But I could see it being an issue here at the courthouse, where you’ve got a lot of people under stress.”
Joseph Clinton is just one of those people. He stood in the judicial center’s courtyard Wednesday smoking a cigarette and making a phone call. But even he supported the proposal.
“You know what, I’m all for it,” he said. “I’ve been wanting to quit for 10 years. If I’m in a stressful situation like this and I can’t smoke, it might be more incentive to throw these things down.”
The smoking ban is just one part of an overall wellness strategy commissioners are considering to try to reign in the county’s skyrocketing insurance costs. Under the proposal, Pasco could also enact a policy requiring all new hires to be nonsmokers. The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office has had a similar policy in effect since 2005.
Under the sheriff’s policy, job applicants have to sign a pledge that they haven’t smoked or used tobacco products for six months.
Pasco commissioners last considered a nonsmoking policy in 2008 but opted against it. The county offers free smoking cessation classes through the Gulfcoast North Area Health Education Center, the Pasco County Health Department and at local hospitals.
Excluding smokers from the applicant pool is allowed by law. A 1995 Florida Supreme Court ruling in city of North Miami v. Kurtz held that there is no expectation of privacy in smoking cigarettes, and therefore it is not a violation of a right to privacy when a public employer refuses to hire someone who smokes.
The Pasco County Sheriff's Office implemented a tobacco-free worker policy in 2005, and firefighters statewide must sign a pledge saying they have not smoked for at least a year. Employees hired before then are exempt from the policy, although no one is allowed to smoke or use tobacco products in department buildings or vehicles.
County Administrator John Gallagher said his staff is gauging interest from other departments, such as the Clerk of Court and Property Appraiser, who share space in county buildings. He said Elections Supervisor Brian Corley has voiced support for the nonsmoking policy.
“Is the board OK with it if we get the other constitutional officers on board with it?” Gallagher asked. Commissioners gave their unanimous consent.
Deputy Property Appraiser Wade Barber, who works in the East Pasco Government Center, said he doesn’t expect much opposition from county workers.
“Insurance is such a touchy subject with everybody,” Barber said. “There may be a few people who balk at it.”