Commissioners discussed a new policy Tuesday that bans all tobacco use on all county property including boat ramps, parks, trails and the sports complex, which will roll out in three phases starting Jan. 1 2012.
“It is tobacco free. It does not just cover smoking, it is all tobacco products,” said Assistant County Administrator June Fisher told the board.
Phase 1, which includes the downtown Sebring campuses like the Government Center, Courthouse, State Attorney, Public Defender, Government Annex, Facilities Office, the Children’s Advocacy and all EMS centers.
Phase 2 also begins on Jan. 1 of 2012, and includes all fire stations, the landfill, all libraries and community centers.
Phase 3, whose roll out date is to be announced, includes all county property like parks, boat ramps and trails.
“How are you going to enforce this?” asked Commissioner Ron Handley.
Fisher replied that enforcement would depend on county employees reporting other employees and violators.
“It is not going to go flawless, there are probably going to be gray areas. But this is the right thing,” said Highlands County Health Department Administrator Robert Paluszak.
The policy also forced potential county employees to sign an affidavit stating they have refrained from tobacco use for up to a year prior to applying to the county.
Fisher even discussed other counties that drug test for tobacco use prior to applying for a county position.
Commissioner Don Elwell took exception with that section of the policy.
“I think this section is unnecessary,” Elwell said. Elwell further argued that the new policy could “severely limit” the county’s application pool for employees.
“We are trying to enforce actions before they are even employees,” Elwell added.
“The idea behind that policy is to improve the risk pool of your insurance policy,” County Attorney Ross Macbeth told the commissioners.
Macbeth clarified further that the if an applicant was tobacco free for up to a year before applying for a county position, then that would lower the county’s insurance costs over time.
The policy further states that the county will provide tobacco cessation programs to the employees who request it, and the health departments are currently offering free nicotine patches and a five-week cessation program at no cost for the public.
By ED BALDRIDGE