Smoking in the Federal Workplace: Should It Be Banned?

By on December 18, 2008 in Current Events with 1 Comment

Bring up the subject of smoking in the federal workplace and expect strong opinions to quickly emerge.

People who do not smoke frequently object to the smell of cigarettes or cigars. They are concerned about the impact on their health when breathing in smoke. And, from comments sent in by readers, there is also resentment by some non-smokers over the number and length of the smoking breaks taken by smokers who leave their desks to go wherever smoking is allowed.

Many non-smokers are vehement in their opposition. Over time, the restrictions on smokers have become more stringent. As one reader commented: "It is a nasty, foul-smelling, and unhealthy habit. And second-hand smoke is dangerous and inconsiderate to everyone else who has to breathe air fouled with this toxic tobacco smoke. Let the smoker’s poison themselves and no one else (except maybe their own children) in the confines of their own homes."

Smokers defend smoking cigarettes and defend their right to do so. As one reader commented: "Does (a ban on smoking) sound like "1984" twenty years late to anyone but me?"

Some readers compare banning smoking to banning overweight people in the workplace or putting restrictions on eating food that leads to putting on weight. As one reader commented: "[O]nce the smoking ban is all squared away, the government will look more seriously at obesity in the fed workplace. The cafeteria (if there’s one in the bldg) will bequired to stock only healthy items, and those things deamed junk won’t be allowed in your lunch sack either. May go even a step further and make it a requirement for federal employees to exercise three days a week and maintain a certain weight for your body frame."

President Clinton issued an Executive Order more than 10 years ago that reads: " It is the policy of the executive branch to establish a smoke-free environment for Federal employees and members of the public visiting or using Federal facilities. The smoking of tobacco products is thus prohibited in all interior space owned, rented, or leased by the executive branch of the Federal Government, and in any outdoor areas under executive branch control in front of air intake ducts."

At first glance, that would seem to end the issue. But the Order contained a number of exceptions. It does not, for example,  apply to " designated smoking areas that are enclosed and exhausted directly to the outside and away from air intake ducts…"

The issue has not disappeared. In fact, the controversy is heating up again.

The American Lung Association is weighing in. It says that "the simple act of going to work puts the health of thousands of federal government workers at risk"  and it is asking the next administration to ban smoking in the federal workplace. "It’s really unconscionable in 2008 to still find workplaces that expose workers to deadly secondhand smoke throughout the work day," said Bernadette Toomey, President and CEO of the American Lung Association. "What’s even harder to fathom is that the federal government is one of these employers who knowingly puts their worker’s health at risk."

The organization has set up a petition urging Barack Obama to issue an executive order banning all smoking in the federal workplace. The bottom line of the petition: "Please close the loopholes so that all federal workers are protected from the dangers of secondhand smoke."

What is your view? Should all smoking be banned in the federal workplace?

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