An estimated 1,700 cities in the U.S. have ordinances that restrict public smoking. Nationwide, 74 cities and counties have expanded smoking bans to also include the workplace. This is a growing trend. In the coming months, additional cities and counties are set to mandate smoke-free workplaces, which include fleet vehicles. One example is in Texas, where Smith County commissioners approved on April 26 a ban on smoking in all county facilities, which includes county vehicles. The ban is effective July 1. In Georgia, the city of Canton in Cherokee County is on the verge of becoming a smoke-free city. Employers with “enclosed workplaces” within the city boundaries will be required to prohibit smoking in common work areas, which include company vehicles. In North Carolina, Charlotte city councilwoman Susan Burgess wants to ban smoking in city vehicles, including police cars. This trend isn’t solely a U.S. phenomenon. Smoking bans have recently become law in a growing number of countries. On March 29, Ireland became the first country in the world to prohibit smoking in the workplace, including company vehicles. Irish employers have the onus to enforce the law and failure to do so can result in stiff fines of up to 3,000 euros (approximately $US 3,600). Other countries that have recently enacted (or will be enacting) laws restricting smoking are Uganda (March 2004), India (May 3, 2004), Norway (May 6, 2004), Sweden (July 1, 2004), and New Zealand (Dec. 31, 2004). An international treaty sponsored by the World Health Organization and signed by 107 countries seeks to become the first legal instrument designed to reduce tobacco-related deaths and disease. The U.S. has not signed the treaty. Economics and Lawsuits Will Prompt Legislation
One driving force behind this legislative trend is economics, in particular the rising cost of health care benefits provided by employers - both private and public. Health care costs for employers are increasing almost three times as fast as inflation. Some employers (and legislators) reason that if they can help employees quit smoking, it will reduce health care costs, workers’ comp costs, absenteeism, and boost productivity. Another motivation is that some cities and counties want to indemnify themselves against future lawsuits from victims of smoking-related illnesses, suing legislatures for culpability in failing to protect them from second-hand smoke. The EPA reports, “The concentration of breathable particles (from secondhand smoke) in a closed motor vehicle is more than 133 times higher than the current average annual EPA standard.” Secondhand smoke has been classified as a Group A carcinogen, one that is known to cause cancer in humans. Consequently, employers run a liability risk if employees are exposed to secondhand smoke at their workplace. Employee drivers, such as those with chronic respiratory illnesses such as asthma, have already sued for protection against tobacco smoke under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The issue of culpability and liability from second-hand smoke in the workplace promises to be tested more and more in the courts, which will only fuel more legislative pressures to mandate fleet vehicles as smoke-free workplaces. Let me know what you think.