Hamilton considers smoking, tobacco ban on all city property

Proposed ban could include city parks.

The city of Hamilton is considering snuffing out all forms of smoking and tobacco use on all its properties, including possibly city parks.

City government is in the early stages of considering an assault on tobacco use on several fronts, Human Resources Director Tim Werdmann recently told City Council.

That includes banning all tobacco and e-cigarette use at all city properties and work sites, including city-owned cars and trucks, “so we don’t have folks driving around, smoking in the city vehicles,” Werdmann said.

The city would also develop a tobacco-free policy for its government complex at 345 High Street, which it shares with Butler County government and private companies that lease space, he said.

The measure could also prohibit tobacco and e-cigarettes at all publicly-owned properties within city limits, including possibly city parks, and would include a policy against hiring new employees who use tobacco, as well as tobacco-use disincentives through the city’s health-insurance plan.

Most of those policies are advocated by the American Lung Association in Ohio, said its director of advocacy, Shelly Kiser. The exception: A ban on hiring tobacco users, because that would shut people who are some of the most in need of jobs from city-government employment, she said.

Parks might be included in the ban, Werdmann said, although, “this is still being formulated.”

Kiser said the American Lung Association supports such bans, including in parks, because, “That’s a very good policy to have,” Kiser said. “One of the reasons is it protects people who have lung diseases, like asthma, from second-hand smoke. I talked to a young girl in Dayton, and she played soccer — and if the people would be on the sidelines watching her play soccer, and she would breathe in that second-hand smoke, it could cause an asthma attack for her.”

Also, “With our parks, it’s a good way to model that positive behavior that we want our children to have,” she said. “We don’t want our children to start smoking, and if they see their parents or other people’s parents that are role models for them smoking, that’s a bad example for them. Nobody wants to see our children start smoking.”

Several area businesses that sell e-cigarettes, also known as “vapes,” which deliver nicotine without a lit cigarette, declined to comment.

Rob Lawrence, manager at Tobacco Discounters on Tylersville Road, laughed and said, “that’s ridiculous,” when told tobacco and e-cigarettes may be banned in Hamilton parks.

“Land of the free, right?” he said. “Land of the free, home of the regulated? Yeah, that’s probably one of the more ridiculous things I’ve ever heard. I think that’s an infringement on people’s rights, especially in a public place.”

“Who is a human being to tell another human being that, ‘You cannot smoke’?” he added. “Especially the vaporizer ones. I don’t get that. I understand inside buildings, because you’re in direct contact, but all it takes (outdoors) is walking like a foot or two away from people to not bother them.”

Encouragement, not bans

Kiser said the American Lung Association does not support bans on hiring new employees who use tobacco products. Rather than that punishment approach, she said, it supports incentives for people to quit.

“We are concerned that certain groups of people who are disproportionately impacted by smoking might be let out of the hiring process. So that’s not a policy that we personally promote, although there are a lot of people who do promote that policy.”

“The populations here in Ohio that are disproportionately impacted are people of low socioeconomic status — people who are very poor, people that don’t have a college degree, who have mental illnesses, that are LGBT status,” she said. “African-Americans smoke at a higher rate…. We don’t want anyone to be left out of it.”

Other approaches can be effective in getting people to quit, she said.

“We think that communities should offer cessation resources to their employees, do things like smoke-free campuses,” Kiser said. “That’s a real positive thing to do, or do things like don’t allow smoking during work hours, or don’t allow smoking breaks, are much more positive ways to encourage people to make that quit attempt that most people are already thinking about anyway.”

Hamilton and Butler County governments are discussing approaches to banning e-smoking and all tobacco products from their shared High Street facility, Werdmann said.

Many employers, led by hospitals and other health-care companies, have adopted policies against tobacco-using employees as a way to lower their health-care costs, because smoking leads to such costly medical problems as lung disease and heart disease, as well as premature death, cancer and long-term damage to respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

A decade ago, Ohio voters approved an indoor smoking ban. In 2007, the first year Ohio’s smoking ban took effect, the adult smoking rate was 23.1 percent. It now is 21.6 percent, but that’s well above the national average of 15.1 percent, Kiser noted.

“We are really not doing well with our smoking rates,” Kiser said. “So anything we can do to encourage people to quit, encourage our children not to start, is definitely something we should be doing here in our state.”

How to enforce?

While Hamilton still is early in the process, officials told the Journal-News that they hope to have policies in place by early 2017.

Werdmann said the city is studying legislation adopted by other local governments, including the city of Cleveland.

Among questions the city still is working to answer are how to penalize people who violate the ban. For its own employees, the city can use internal discipline measures, but for non-employees the city could either implement civil fines or put minor-misdemeanor or misdemeanor charges in place, including some that could lead to jail time for some offenses.

The city administration will be looking for direction from the council on several of the possibilities, Werdmann indicated.

One thing the city is using is the Hamilton County Public Health Department’s “We Thrive!” program, which encourages local governments in that county to adopt healthy policies, such as smoke-free public properties and tobacco-free day-care centers.

At Hamilton County’s health department, there is no policy yet toward e-cigarettes, said public information officer Mike Samet: “We really haven’t taken a stand on that until the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) comes out one way or another. We have encouraged tobacco-free — not necessarily smoke-free, but tobacco-free.”

“That includes the oral uses of tobacco, and so on,” he said. Vaping is “a liquid version of nicotine, so I’m not sure it can be categorized exactly as tobacco…. There needs to be some study on the vaping thing, and what the ramifications are for second-hand vapors, versus second-hand smoke. We know pretty well what second-hand smoke can do.”

“As a health department, we tend to work closely with the CDC, and what their recommendations are,” he said. His health department for several years now has not hired smokers, but allows those who do smoke to continue working there.

The CDC has said e-cigarettes “appear to have far fewer of the toxins found in smoke compared to traditional cigarettes,” but has cautioned the impact of e-cigarettes on long-term health needs to be studied.

“If large numbers of adult smokers become users of both traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes — rather than using e-cigarettes to quit cigarettes completely — the net public health effect could be quite negative,” Tim McAfee, CDC’s director of the Office on Smoking and Health, has said.

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