Since 1966, we have been warned of the dangers of smoking. Here is a brief history of the Surgeon General’s warnings on cigarette packages:
- Caution: Cigarette Smoking May be Hazardous to Your Health (1966-1970)
- Warning: The Surgeon General Has Determined that Cigarette Smoking is Dangerous to Your Health (1970-1985)
- SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, And May Complicate Pregnancy. (1985-)
- SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Quitting Smoking Now Greatly Reduces Serious Risks to Your Health. (1985-)
And yet, many businesses still wrestle with whether the company should have a nonsmoking policy for its employees and visitors. Legally, a company in Texas is free to make any policy it wants regarding smoking on the job or in its facilities.
Should your company have an anti-smoking policy? If you are paying all or part of your employees’ health insurance premiums, you should have a smoke-free workplace policy for economic reasons, if no other reason. A federal study based in Pueblo, Colorado, demonstrated that the rate of hospital admissions for heart attack declined 41 percent in the 18 months after a city smoke-free ordinance took effect compared to the 18 months prior to the ordinance. According to the Centers for Disease Control, smoke-free laws likely reduce heart attack hospitalizations both by reducing second-hand smoke exposure and by reducing smoking. Just think what that kind of reduction could do to your group health insurance premiums!
Since Amarillo and most Texas Panhandle towns have no city ordinances banning smoking, employers have to make their own decisions about what to do. Few employers allow employees to freely smoke in the building. Many Texas employers choose to create areas outside of the building and away from the entrances in which smoking is allowed. Others take it farther and ban all smoking on the premises. Baptist St. Anthony’s hospital in Amarillo created a brief uproar last year when it expanded its smoke-free campus policy to a blanket refusal to hire smokers at all. This is the most stringent smoking policy of which I am aware.
How do you institute a smoking policy at your company? Here’s a good lawyerly response: in writing, of course. Add a policy like this one from the Texas Workforce Commission’s publication, Especially for Texas Employers, to your employee handbook and post it in break rooms and on the employee bulletin board or intranet:
The Company maintains a smoke- and tobacco-free office. No smoking or other use of tobacco products (including, but not limited to, cigarettes, pipes, cigars, snuff, or chewing tobacco) is permitted in any part of the building or in vehicles owned, leased, or rented by the Company. Employees may smoke outside in designated areas during breaks. When smoking or otherwise using tobacco or similar products outside, do not leave cigarette butts or other traces of litter or tobacco use on the ground or anywhere else. No additional breaks beyond those allowed under the Company’s break policy may be taken for the purpose of using tobacco or similar products. Dispose of any litter properly in the receptacles provided for that purpose.
Or if you want a more restrictive policy that bans tobacco everywhere on your premises, here is the TWC’s suggestion:
The Company maintains a smoke- and tobacco-free office. No smoking or other use of tobacco or similar products (including, but not limited to, cigarettes, pipes, cigars, snuff, or chewing tobacco) is permitted at any point during a workday, while on company business, while in transit between work locations or assignments, while at client locations, in any part of a company building or within “x” feet of such buildings, or anywhere on or in company parking areas. There are no designated smoking areas inside or on Company premises, nor does the Company allow smoking breaks during the workday, i.e., no additional breaks beyond those allowed under the Company’s break policy may be taken for the purpose of using tobacco or similar products. If returning from a meal break during which you have used tobacco or similar products, do not leave cigarette butts or other traces of litter or tobacco use on the ground or anywhere else. Dispose of any litter properly in the receptacles provided for that purpose.