Oregon state employee smoking ban takes effect
SALEM — A no-smoking rule has taken hold throughout most of Oregon's state government, and with a few exceptions, state workers have to go outside to a sidewalk or private property to light up.
Prison guards are among the exceptions because there's no convenient place for them to smoke, the Salem Statesman Journal reported.
Gov. John Kitzhaber, who is a physician, signed the order in August, and it went into effect Tuesday. He said it would save money.
“Conservative estimates find that the state employees who smoke cost the state more than $13 million per year,” says his executive order.
About 4 percent of Oregon's 50,000 state workers smoke, according to a survey done by the state benefits board. The ban extends to chewing tobacco.
Workers will mostly be on the honor system, since the governor can't issue fines.
“People generally respond to rules, honestly,” said Tony Green, spokesman for the Department of Administrative Services.
The state has slowly been pushing workers toward quitting. Its health insurance benefits cover programs and products to help people quit, and a new health engagement program will require smokers to take smoking cessation classes.
Workers who use tobacco are charged $25 per month on top of their insurance premiums, and if they and their spouse use tobacco, the charge is $50.
The state has been steadily reducing smoking areas in Oregon, requiring smoke-free workplaces in a 2001 law and extending that in 2007 to bars and restaurants.
Within state government, the Department of Corrections, Oregon Youth Authority and Department of Parks and Recreation have until the end of 2014 to come up with a plan that will allow their employees to comply with the new ban.
Prisons, for example, are so large and the working areas so far from privately owned land that it's unclear where those employees will go to smoke.
The ban doesn't apply to college campuses, although some have already created similar rules.
Barb O'Neill, an administrative specialist with the Department of Education, said she didn't mind the new rule but was frustrated with how it was implemented.
“It makes sense, but they never told us where we could smoke,” she said. “There's no specific area where we're allowed.”
Green said the state did that on purpose.
“We're not telling people where they can smoke,” he said. “We're just telling them where they can't.”
O'Neill said the new rule has had its intended effect: She plans to quit.
“I can't afford it, it's bad for your health, and this is kind of the clincher,” she said.
Information from: Statesman Journal, http://www.statesmanjournal.com