Delaware News

Coalition hopes to snuff out county workers' smoking


The Tobacco-Free Delaware County Coalition wants to make it more difficult for county workers to light up from 9 to 5 -- and promises savings if it gets its way.

The coalition met with the Delaware County commissioners Monday, Sept. 24, armed with statistics and evidence of a growing trend across the county to curb smokers' ability to light up at work.

"We'd like to see the county adopt a tobacco-free workplace policy," said coalition member Linda Diamond, a development officer at the Delaware General Health District. "Our primary concern is with the health of county employees, who will get a chance to heal if they don't have the opportunity to inhale smoke during work hours."

But there is another incentive, Diamond said, to the policy they propose.

"It's a bottom-line issue. It will help to lower health insurance costs and absenteeism. It will reduce the cost of fire insurance," she said.

According to the Center for Disease Control, every employee who uses tobacco costs the county $1,760 in lost productivity and $1,623 in excess medical expenditures.

"That $3,383 is a considerable sum per employee," said Commissioner Ken O'Brien, "and I think we owe it to our constituents to at least consider the coalition's proposal. One of my major goals is to reduce the county's health-care costs. Our premiums are quite high."

The adverse effects of smoking can't be measured only in dollars.

Smokers are absent from work 6.5 more days per year than non-smokers, and the average smoker spends about 18 days a year on smoke breaks, the coalition's statistics showed.

Still, Commissioner Dennis Stapleton acknowledged it would be complicated to implement a workplace smoking ban.

"Having employees who smoke and telling them that they can't smoke outside our building will just cause them to walk across the street and smoke anyway," he said, "and you wouldn't really be able to police it, so you'd still have the loss of productivity."

Stapleton wondered, too, where such measures would end.

"Smoking is an easy problem to jump on, but it's just one of the issues that cause just as many problems that society doesn't want to face yet," Stapleton said. "Diet, exercise, eating and obesity are huge problems and have a big impact on health-insurance costs as well. But society, in general, is not ready to accept sanctions on that problem like they are smoking."

O'Brien said he preferred in this instance the carrot to the stick.

"If we do go down this road, then I think it's important, rather than to penalize our employees, that we give them an incentive to quit smoking as well as the programming to assist them in their efforts," he said.