College can teach county on upcoming tobacco ban

From the The Brunswick News

In less than two months, Glynn County will impose a smoking ban at both courthouses, the Sheriff's Office, Glynn County Detention Center and the W. Harold Pate Building.

Before the ban goes into effect March 18, county officials plan to get the word out to the public about the coming changes.

But the county doesn't have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to learning the necessary preparations and what to expect after the ban becomes policy.

County officials can look at how College of Coastal Georgia, in 2009, and Southeast Georgia Health System, in 2011 implemented and enforced smoking bans, as well as the benefits they have seen.

Valerie Hepburn, president of College of Coastal Georgia, says the decision was made there to prohibit tobacco products on campus because of the obvious health benefits to both smokers and non-smokers.

The college took about six months to impose the ban after the decision was made, giving faculty and students time to prepare.

Surprisingly, fewer students complained about the ban than faculty.

Hepburn said the college offered smoking cessation classes and other educational programs to help students and faculty quit. The county has similar plans for its employees.

"There are lots of avenues to help people quit and stay the course," Hepburn said. "I think doing as much as possible to help them find a pathway to quitting is super."

When the ban at the college went into effect, Hepburn said nearly everyone cooperated. Students caught smoking on campus were given oral warnings. The college keeps track of repeat offenders, who face fines up to $100 and possible suspension. Employees can be fired if they are caught violating the policy, she said.

All students are told about the ban in orientation classes when they arrive on campus.

Hepburn says two students were fined in 2010, shortly after the ban went into effect, but no students or faculty have faced similar punishment since.

"We are not vigilantes," she said. "They need to adhere to the policy."

The policy went into effect on campus at the beginning of the construction boom at the college, and it even applies to construction workers.

When the county ban goes into effect, it will see the same benefits as the college, Hepburn said.

Employees will be healthier because non-smokers suffer fewer respiratory diseases, and they are more productive in the workplace, because they aren't leaving their jobs for a smoking break, she said.

In addition, college grounds crews no longer spend an inordinate amount of time picking up cigarette butts.

Jacqueline Weder, vice president for marketing at Southeast Georgia Health System, says all tobacco products have been banned on health system property because of the obvious health benefits.

"In addition to the health-related issues caused by tobacco use, a frequent concern voiced by our patients has been the overwhelming smell of tobacco on some of our team members," Weder said. "By becoming tobacco-free, we are creating a healthier environment for everyone on our campuses and also addressing a common patient complaint."

Like the college, the health system provided information and educational materials to employees prior to the ban.

"Surprisingly, we received more compliments and encouragement than complaints," Weder said. "We asked everyone to be especially considerate of the feelings of tobacco users and non-tobacco users alike."

The health system's ban includes electronic cigarettes, which deliver nicotine vapor without smoke.

When the county's ban goes into effect, violators face up to a $50 fine. The health system has no penalties for violating its no-smoking policy, and most people honor it, Weder said. If anyone would refuse to comply, Weder says he or she would be escorted off the property.

"Absolutely, there has been a difference - no more cigarette receptacles, butts on the grounds, smoke in front of doors and fewer complaints from our patients about the overwhelming smell of tobacco on some of our team members," Weder said.

College president Hepburn says the county is making the right decision and she supports plans to expand the ban to other county buildings and parks.

"I think they will get good feedback," Hepburn said of the county. "I think it's a great step. I commend them for doing this."

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Release Date: 1/21/2013
Source: The Brunswick News

By GORDON JACKSON