Smoke Breaks, Health, Smokers’ Rights and Festering Resentment

What do readers think about a total ban on smoking in federal buildings? There are plenty of strong opinions ranging from simmering resentment about smokers taking extra breaks to concerns about the lack of “smokers’ rights.” Here are the survey results.

Do you support a complete ban on smoking in the federal workplace?

We asked readers last week to weigh in with their opinion. 67% of readers said they do support such a ban while 32% did not support it.

Since we came out with the survey, GSA has issued a new bulletin that effectively bans smoking in the workplace which, presumably, will please 67% of our readers and irritate the other 32%.

We also had more than 700 people send in their views on smoking. The opinions often boiled down to several issues. The obvious one: People who do not smoke do not want to walk through or smell second-hand smoke. There is also considerable resentment by non-smokers about the amount of time that is used for smoking breaks.

From the other side of the issue, smokers are offended that a government ban would restrict their ability to smoke at work. Many do not think it is fair to ban smoking completely. Some argue that if smoking should be banned, obese employees should also be banned as a health issue or that perfume or cologne should also be banned as an irritant to other employees.  It is an issue that generates an emotional response from some people. A few representative comments are reprinted below.

Here is a summary of the survey results.

1.  Do you support a complete ban on smoking in the federal workplace? Total Responses Percentage Grand Total
yes 1116 67% 1661
no 526 32% 1661
undecided 19 1% 1661

Here are a few representative comments from readers on this topic.

A web developer with DoD in San Diego wrote: "I think they should ban all smoke breaks also. They don’t give me anymore breaks so why should they get one."

A manager with NIH in Frederick MD resents smoking in the workplace: "Many smokers ignore the limited smoking ban where I work. Why should I have to choose between confronting them or breathing toxic chemicals? [Unlike food, I have to breathe the same air. I don’t have to share their high trans fat Twinkies(tm).]"

A unit supervisor from Hill AFB, Utah does not like the frequent smoking breaks: "There is no official smoking break time; however, employees boldly walk away from their desk workloads for 10-15 minutes every hour to smoke citing they’re stressed; that smoking helps them think more clearly, and best of all, they’re accomplishing their work outside while smoking! Their smoking does cause resentment – these employees can’t be counted on to be at their desk or stay focused in meetings without an hourly smoke break."

An employee of the FAA who describes himself as a former smoker sympathizes with the plight of smokers: "I understand the position of smokers. They have already been banned to the outside elements. (Which today is 15 degrees!) As an adult I will just avoid the areas rather than put these fellow workers in a state of withdrawl and discomfort to appease some holier than thou nonsmoker who doesn’t even have a need to step out the back door to even smell the smoke let alone breathe enough to harm them."

A manager with the Corps of Engineers in Alabama misses being able to smoke in his own office: "I liked it better when you could smoke in the office. I don’t smoke regularly, but would like to light up a pipe or cigar once in a while."

A pregnant employee from SSA in Falls Church, VA is irritated by having to get around smoke, especially in areas where it is not permitted and does not like the smoking breaks: "smoking employees end up taking additional unscheduled breaks to smoke, to which they are not entitled (but get away with), while the rest of us are only allowed our regular scheduled breaks. Unfair."

A technical director from CMS in Baltimore does not like having to pay the extra costs of health problems for smokers: "I am opposed to providing smokers time to leave their work areas to go outside the site perimeter to smoke on paid time. Further their habit adds to the cost of my health care plan."

A Patient Business Assistant with the VA in Columbus, Ohio says we should stop regulating private preferences: "Stop allowing people’s private agenda to be enacted in the public arena. I know plenty of people who smoke and as long as they do it outside, fine. For the people who whine "But I have to walk past the smokers when I go to lunch/my car etc", so. You have to pass buses, landfill and houses with fire burning fire places too. I’m sure you have a habit that effects people you probably think is no big deal, but it is a big deal to someone. Look we’ve made them do it outside, we’ve even created (in some places) a place for them to do it. If personally you don’t like smokers, stay away from them as much as possible, but one cannot continue to allow private opinion to become public policy."

An employee with DFAS in Pensacola, Florida says smoking should be banned "only if they ban obesity too."

A Civil Rights Specialist with FHWA in Boise, Idaho was offended by the survey: "[W]ith everything we know about smoking you would dare to even ask this question? What about the workers with Asthma and allergies? Should they suffer so a smoking addict can have his or her fix?"

An IT Specialist from the USDA in Kansas City, MO does not like walking into his building because of the smoke: "Smokers still block the entrances to the building causing nonsmokers to HAVE to walk thru the smoke – this includes security guards that smoke on duty….."

A supervisor with the Navy in Silverdale, WA sees a link between poor performance and smoking: "Besides the health issues, the amount of time wasted is astronomical. Not just the smoking but getting to / from the smoking area. What I see is 85% of the people who smoke are the unhealthy ones and the poor performers, so it’s just another reason for them to get out of working."

A management assistant with the FAA in Ft. Worth commented: "Let smokers go far away from the building. We smell the smoke stench walking to our cafeteria."

But an Offer Examiner with the IRS in Memphis has a different view: "Smokers are already forced to smoke ouitside. What is the point in making them any more miserable?"

A Construction Engineer with the Forest Service in Porterville, CA thinks the government has forgotten about the individual rights of smokers: "We need to remember, that smokers under current federal laws, also have rights. I am a former smoker, who quit. I see nothing wrong, with providing an area, where smokers can smoke and not pollute the area of non-smokers."

A Postal Service clerk from Marshall, MN has a strong view: "I don’t smoke any longer! Next you will tell Smokers, they can’t smoke on their own property.  Where next you self rightious (sic) SOB"s."

And an employee from the Dept. of Justice also resents the smoking breaks: "Some smokers take more time walking to, during and from their smoke breaks than they do actually working."

Our thanks to all readers who took the time to participate in this survey with a special thanks to those who send in their written views on the topic.