What can Fairfax County legally do to discourage employees from smoking? That’s the question Fairfax County Supervisor Gerry Hyland (Mount Vernon) wants answered.
The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion from Hyland on Tuesday directing the county’s lawyers to look at the legality of smoking bans on county property, required courses that would encourage quitting and the consideration of tobacco use in a person’s hiring.
Hyland tossed around the idea of stop-smoking classes during the Oct. 30 Board of Supervisors meeting and got quick media attention. Hyland said the public’s reaction so far has been passionate, but not always positive.
While some people agreed with the idea, others thought he was “the devil incarnate,” he said, trying to take away their right to do what they want.
But Hyland said helping employees to quit smoking would benefit the county in the long run.
“Encouraging our employees to live healthier lifestyles has a direct impact on our costs to carry out government functions,” Hyland’s motion reads, noting diseases caused by smoking lead to higher health care costs.
The county already has some programs in place that discourage employees from smoking. Public safety employees aren’t allowed to smoke and smoking cessation classes are already offered, though they aren’t required. Hyland said the classes have been “moderately” successful.
Board Chairman Sharon Bulova voted for the study of the county’s authority, but said she was ultimately against any smoking bans or requirements.
“We have smokers who work for Fairfax County who are valuable employees,” she said. “People have a free will.”
Supervisor Michael Frey worried smokers on the county payroll would think these ideas were discriminatory and asked county staff to broaden their search to all behaviors that could be harmful to their health.
Hyland said the county had approximately 2,700 employees who smoke.
Fairfax County pays 85 percent of the cost for employees' individual health insurance coverage, and 75 percent of cost for two-party or family coverage for employees scheduled to work more than 30 hours per week, according to its Web site.
Beginning with the 2010 premiums, the county began paying half that amount for part-time merit employees hired or rehired after July 3, 2009 who are scheduled to work 30 hours or less per week.
Hyland’s reasons for championing stop-smoking measures were both practical and personal, he said.
His father, who smoked more than two packs a day, died at age 50 from lung cancer.
The county’s attorneys will look into the following questions:
- Does Fairfax County have authorization from Virginia law to ban smoking on all county property, including but not limited to government buildings?
- Can the county consider a job applicant's tobacco use in hiring decisions?
- Can the county make smoking abstinence a requirement of employment?
- Can the county mandate a new employee who smokes to take classes that will help him or her quit?
Supervisors will explore the matter further at 10 a.m. next Tuesday during the meeting of the Board of Supervisors Personnel Committee.