The Department of Veterans Affairs announced a new smoking policy that will impact federal employees working at its facilities.
Starting October 1, the agency will extend its smoke-free policies to include employees at its health care facilities. The move is part of the agency’s commitment to providing a smoke-free health care environment for veterans.
The Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) smoke-free policy applies to cigarettes, cigars, pipes, any other combustion of tobacco and non-Federal Drug Administration approved electronic nicotine delivery systems, including but not limited to electronic or e-cigarettes, vape pens or e-cigars.
Since 1991, smoking has only been allowed at VA facilities in designated areas. This new policy would ban smoking outright at agency facilities starting on October 1, 2019.
The agency said in a policy memo that the change is “based on the security hazards related to smoking on VHA health care facility grounds, scientific evidence regarding the adverse health effects of secondhand and thirdhand smoke exposures, and their impact to patient safety and direct patient care.” It cited things such as fire and safety hazards as risks that accompany smoking in the workplace along with health risks to employees.
“Consistent with its core health mission, as authorized in 38 U.S.C. 7301(b), it is VHA policy that all VHA health care facilities will be smoke-free for employees effective October 1, 2019. Accordingly, at VHA health care facilities, by that date all designated smoking areas for employees must be eliminated,” reads the policy directive.
This new policy follows an announcement by the VA on June 10 that VA will ban smoking at its healthcare facilities by patients, visitors, volunteers, contractors and vendors.
“This policy change is consistent with our mission to promote a healthy environment for patients, visitors and employees at our facilities and is an important element of improving our health care system,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “It will reduce the harmful effects of smoking, including exposure to second and third-hand smoke, as well as increase safety and reduce fire hazards caused by smoking.”
AFGE was quick to file a grievance against the agency in response to the policy decision. The union said it is a violation of AFGE’s existing Memorandum of Understanding.
Legislation was also recently introduced in the Senate by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) to ban smoking at all VHA facilities. Durbin said that the bill would institute a ban by repealing “an antiquated 1992 law that requires the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to furnish and maintain designated indoor or outdoor smoking areas.”
If the new smoking policy ultimately goes into effect, Durbin’s bill may wind up being a moot point.
FedSmith readers had strong opinions on the subject as evidenced by the comments on the article about Durbin’s bill.
Do you agree with the VA’s policy change? Feel free to debate the subject in the comments below.