Essex County government discusses going smoke-free

ELIZABETHTOWN – Essex County public health officials want to make the county complex a completely smoke-free environment in time for the 37th annual Great American Smokeout, but some supervisors aren’t sold on the idea.

Jessica Darney-Buehler of the county’s Department of Public Health pitched the proposal to the Human Services Committee on Monday. She noted that the county established a tobacco-free grounds policy in 2011, but designated seven sites where employees could smoke.

Darney-Buehler asked supervisors to revise the smoking policy and remove the designated smoking areas.

“It would be a complete tobacco-free grounds policy,” she said.

If approved, the change would take effect Nov. 21, the date of the Great American Smokeout, Darney-Buehler said. The website for the Great American Smokeout says the event takes place Nov. 15.

Jay town Supervisor Randy Douglas said he’s a “little leery” of making the complex completely smoke free. He said the designated areas have been working well.

“With big facilities, you eliminate a problem, but then you create a problem for somebody else,” he said. “I’m a little leery of total smoke free on county grounds. I don’t want to be the one that’s creating a problem for somebody else. In our situation here, it would be the town of Elizabethtown.”

Darney-Buehler said some municipalities have created ordinances to ban smoking in public places. She said that would address the issue of people leaving the complex and smoking on town property. But Douglas said such a ban would be tough to enforce.

Douglas noted that his town bans smoking at its youth facilities.

“At what point do we choose to stop regulating every little thing people do?” Moriah town Supervisor Tom Scozzafava asked.

Darney-Buehler said the intent of the policy change is to help the majority of county workers who don’t smoke, not target individuals.

“The effort of a policy such as this is to preserve the health of people who don’t want to be exposed to (smoking),” she said.

If supervisors approve the revision, smokers would have to walk to the sidewalks that surround the county complex, according to county Manager Dan Palmer. Elizabethtown town Supervisor Margaret Bartley said she’d like the county to place receptacles along the property boundaries so her town’s crews don’t become responsible for cleaning up cigarette butts.

The change could extend to other county buildings. Public Health Director Linda Beers said her office is completely smoke free. She said the two smokers at her building leave in their cars to smoke and are now in the process of quitting.

Essex County Sheriff Richard Cutting said the change could create issues for him at the Public Safety Building in Lewis. He said there are designated areas away from the building where people can smoke, but there’s a security issue for workers since they are on call, even when they’re taking a break, so leaving the grounds to smoke isn’t a possibility.

No resolution was offered at Monday’s meeting.