Prohibit Smoking in State Office Buildings

Texas should prohibit smoking in all state office buildings.


Background
Smoking in the indoor workplace exposes employees to unnecessary and potentially lethal health risks. The U.S. Surgeon General and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have determined that exposure to seco ndhand smoke can cause premature births and debilitating diseases in non-smokers. The EPA has concluded that exposure to secondhand smoke causes 53,000 deaths among non-smokers annually. 1

Studies indicate that indoor smoking also costs employers up to $10,000 annually per smoker due to smoking-related illness, lost productivity (including absenteeism and disability), higher fire insurance and property damage. 2

Lawsuits from smoking represent a potentially serious liability to the state. In June 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that individuals injured by tobacco products could bring lawsuits under state productivity liability laws. 3 Common law requires employers to keep workplaces relatively safe from hazards. Recent legal decisions indicate that simply moving employees around in an office or separating non-smokers from smokers does not remove the hazard of cigarette smoke or excuse the employer from obligation to employees. A precedent-setting case in 1988 in Washington , McCarthy v. Division of Social and Health Services , awarded employees damages for negligence when employers failed to provide employees with smoke-free environments. 4

A 1991 survey conducted by the Bureau of National Affairs and the Society for Human Resource Management indicated that 85 percent of all employers have policies restricting smoking, while 34 percent of them have eliminated smoking in the workplace entirely . 5 Texas is one of only a few states that has not yet adopted anti-smoking legislation for certain public places, such as state office buildings; 44 states have such laws. 6 A recent poll indicated that 77 percent of all Texans favored policies restricting smoking in public places. 7

A state Representative intends to introduce a comprehensive bill in 1993 that would provide for tougher enforcement of restrictions on tobacco sales and prohibit adults from smoking on public school property. Without this legislation, Texas could lose $32 million annually in federal funds for the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. 8

In a recent survey of 24 large state agencies in Texas, 23 had some type of smoking policy. Of these, 14 have entirely smoke-free buildings, while nine allow smoking only in designated areas such as cafeterias, restrooms or private offices. The trend among state agencies is toward a smoke-free environment, but legislation is needed to make these policies uniform.


Recommendation
State law should require all state office buildings, except the Capitol building, to be smoke-free. State law also should require that agencies provide smoking-cessation assistance when smoking is prohibited.

Such assistance can generally be obtained at little or no cost from local agencies and non-profit associations involved in health issues.

Implications
Statutory no-smoking policies in state facilities would reduce indoor air pollution that harms the health of smokers and non-smokers alike. By prohibiting smoking in state off ice buildings, agencies would experience less absenteeism. The state also would avoid the threat of potential lawsuits and rising health costs for employees.

While this policy would ban indoor smoking, employees could use their break time to leave their buildings to smoke.


Fiscal Impact
Insufficient data exist to estimate savings and costs from a statutory no-smoking policy. Some costs would be incurred to provide programs for smokers who need help quitting. However, the state should achieve net savin gs through higher productivity and lower health insurance costs. The state also would reduce its potential for lawsuits.



Endnotes
1 American Cancer Society, Tobacco Fact Sheet: Support for Public Smoking Policy (October 1992).
2 Business & Health Special Report, A Look at Smoking in the Workplace (Montvale, New Jersey, October 1992), p 9.
3 Tobacco Fact Sheet: Support for Public Smoking Policy (October 1992).
4 Texas Department of Health, Smoking Policy: Questions and Answers (Austin, Texas, June 1990).
5 Tobacco Fact Sheet: Support for Public Smoking Policy (October 1992).
6 A Look at Smoking in the Workplace (Montvale, New Jersey, October 1992), p 16.
7 Tobacco Fact Sheet: Support for Public Smoking Policy (October 1992).
8 Press Release from Representative John Hirschi, Texas House of Representatives, District 81, October 16, 1992.