A Pulaski County executive order that will restrict employees who smoke to do so inside their cars will protect public health, the county judge says, though one elected official questioned its potential effectiveness.
Come March 1, all 14 Pulaski County buildings and their outdoor areas will be entirely smoke free, according to an executive order signed Nov. 28 by County Judge Barry Hyde.
Effective immediately, all tobacco and smoking products -- including chewing tobacco and electronic cigarettes -- are banned from the Pulaski County workplace, the order says.
Smoking is already illegal in most indoor workplaces in Arkansas, and has been for at least a decade after the state Legislature passed the Clean Indoor Air Act of 2006.
It's considered scientific fact that exposure to secondhand smoke can be harmful to health.
About 1 in 4 Arkansas adults smokes cigarettes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Last year, Hyde created a smoking area for the downtown administration building at 201 S. Broadway. He ordered that employees smoke in an east-side alley.
"Those of us who smoke must yield not only to the convenience but also to the health of our co-workers," the 2016 executive order says.
Currently, employees at the Pulaski County Courthouse, 401 W. Markham St., duck outside, often underneath a staircase, for smoke breaks. Officers at the jail, 3201 W. Roosevelt Road, can smoke either by the employee entrance or near the central control office.
In March, those outdoor smoking areas become nonsmoking.
Instead, the county's roughly 1,200 employees can smoke in their personal vehicles, "but the tobacco products, including the smoke produced, must be completely contained within the vehicle," the executive order says.
"It is unacceptable that County employees and visitors are subjected to smoke as they travel to reach their vehicle or any other destination," the order says.
Workers also cannot take additional breaks to smoke, the order says.
County employees are given either a one-hour lunch or a 30-minute lunch and two 15-minute breaks each day, depending on their department, county spokesman Cozetta Jones said in an email. The policy eliminates breaks outside of that time.
An employee who breaks the new rules will receive "disciplinary action, including without limitation, employment termination," the order says.
Jones pointed to the county's personnel policy when asked to clarify what measures could be taken.
Any punitive measure must be documented. Discipline can range from an oral or written reprimand to suspension, demotion and termination and will be judged on a case-by-case basis, the policy says.
But only an elected official has the authority to hire or fire staff members in their administration, said Debra Buckner, the county's treasurer.
Hyde, Buckner, Pulaski County Sheriff Doc Holladay, county Clerk Larry Crane and county Tax Assessor Janet Ward hold the county's five elected posts.
Buckner said in an email that her office supports "any initiative that encourages optimal health for our employees."
Those who don't smoke save money and make fewer health insurance claims, she said.
Buckner said she knows of only a few people in her agency who smoke. Most have indicated they would like to quit, she said.
"Perhaps this step toward inconvenience will be a motivating factor," she said.
"However, we are unclear if we can even monitor how/where/what any employee does on their two legal 15-minute breaks during the workday," she said.
Crane said he's heard some "rumblings" from the smoking employees in his office.
"I think they are concerned about what will happen when they can no longer slip out the back door," he said.
Most, if not all, of his roughly 95 employees park a block and a half away from the building where they work.
"I bet they'd stop before they get to their car," he said.
Crane, a "reformed smoker," said he quit while he was campaigning for the clerk position.
"It killed my mother. It killed my sister. It killed my aunt. I can go on. I'm against it," he said.
"But having said that," he continued, "it is my understanding that punitive measures do not encourage people to stop engaging in addictive behaviors."
The mind of an addict differs from others, Crane said.
"Telling someone they're going to be fired is not going to keep someone from smoking," he said.
Crane gave an example of a drug addict being shown a table on which he finds his drug of choice next to a pistol. The addict is then told he can enjoy the substance, but if he does, he'll be shot.
"Those of us who are not addicts would say, 'I wouldn't trust that stuff for anything,'" Crane said.
But addicts rationalize, he said. They'll think, maybe I can take the drug before he shoots, or maybe the shooter will miss, Crane said.
"Addictions do strange things to our minds," Crane said. "And I would never ever throw rocks at anyone who is a smoker. Because I know, personally, how difficult it is to get away from that addiction."
The executive order made mention of three programs, including two at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, that are available to help employees quit smoking or get counseling on personal matters.
Crane said the premise of not being allowed to smoke on county grounds did encourage one of his employees who was "on the bubble" of giving up cigarettes to make the full attempt.
As far as he knew, the mandate of discipline applies to employees who fall under the county judge's office, Crane said.
Crane did not outline any specific form of reprimand he's considering for those who violate the new smoking policy.
Reached briefly by phone, Holladay said he knows of a few sheriff's office employees "who feel like they are being singled out because they smoke."
"But generally speaking, that's a decision that the [county] judge made for the welfare, not only of the employees, but [of] visitors to county buildings and property."
Under North Little Rock's employee policy, smoking is prohibited within 20 feet of a door to any city building or inside city vehicles. Department heads can establish outdoor smoking areas.
Little Rock allows smoking in the eating area immediately outside the east-side basement exit of the City Hall complex.
At all other facilities, smoking areas are determined by the department director.
Metro on 12/10/2017
Print Headline: County smoke breaks to be restricted to cars