CRESTVIEW — A majority of the Okaloosa County Commission recently approved moving forward with an effort to snuff out tobacco use by county employees while they’re on the clock.
Besides promoting better health, the county’s potential tobacco-free workplace policy might help some of its workers quit using tobacco and could lead to lower healthcare costs.
After considering various options, most commissioners agreed Tuesday to have staff create a policy that would prohibit county workers from smoking cigarettes, vaping and using smokeless tobacco or any other type other tobacco product while working and not on break.
The policy would apply to all employees, including those who work outdoors.
State law already prohibits smoking in public places, including government buildings and places of employment. County workers also are not allowed to smoke in county-owned vehicles.
The county has 924 employees who are under the commission’s purview. The possible tobacco-free workplace policy would not apply to employees of the Sheriff’s Office, which has its own employee policies.
Among the county workers, there is more support for a policy that bans tobacco use while on the clock than for phasing out tobacco use entirely from their lives, according to county information.
That prevailing view didn’t seem to surprise Commission Vice Chairman Trey Goodwin.
“I’m not the personal responsibility police,” said Goodwin, who added he has “a problem telling employees what they can do on their back porch on a Saturday.”
In response to a question from Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel, county Public Works Director Jason Autrey said a fair number of public works’ employees use smokeless tobacco on the job.
Overall, the use of tobacco products on the job are distractions from work, he said.
Still, “Some of the workers say, ‘I don’t care what you do,’ I can’t quit,’” Autrey said. “I would love for our staff to be efficient and not be distracted by any outside influence, such as smoking. But to be fair, I would say, 'Don’t do it at work'" while on the clock.
Commission Chairman Kelly Windes cast the lone “no” vote on moving forward with the overall potential tobacco-free workplace policy after calling it “heavy handed.”
Commissioner Graham Fountain noted that county officials hear complaints from residents when they see two or three county workers who are smoking during a break from their outdoor tasks.
“They don’t like the appearance,” Fountain said.
But Windes said that when a waterline or sewer line breaks, the workers who enjoy a smoke on their own time get the repairs done.