Life is about to get a little bit harder for smokers in Oregon’s Benton County.
The Board of Commissioners voted 3 to 0 on Tuesday (May 1) to ban smoking — as well as smokeless tobacco products such as chew, snuff and electronic cigarettes — at all county-owned facilities and grounds starting Jan. 1, 2013, the Corvallis Gazette-Times reported.
The ban includes not only public areas and parking lots outside county buildings but also all county parks, natural areas and campgrounds.
Technically, the new rule is an internal policy that governs Benton County employees, not an ordinance, so no public hearing was required to pass it. But it’s written in such a way as to apply to volunteers, interns, clients, visitors and vendors on county property as well.
County Counsel Vance Croney cautioned the commissioners the rule would be difficult to enforce on non-employees, especially in parks and campgrounds.
“This is an internal policy. Extending it beyond the employee base becomes a very tricky proposition,” he said during the board’s Tuesday work session.
“We can control our buildings, we can control our facilities, but if we’re not there to monitor it (in parks and campgrounds), it’s probably going to fall on deaf ears.”
Sara Hartstein, the county’s tobacco prevention coordinator, said there were no plans to actively enforce the policy with the public. Instead, she said, signs would inform visitors that county facilities are tobacco-free areas, and county employees would be encouraged to educate violators about the rules.
The tobacco-free policy is intended to send a pro-health message to the public and support people who are trying to quit, Hartstein said.
“It’s not meant to be punitive.”
Oregon already has a smoke-free workplace law, and Corvallis has banned smoking in city parks.
Multnomah County facilities and grounds are scheduled to go tobacco-free July 1, and Deschutes County recently approved a similar policy.
Oregon State University is on track to ban tobacco use, and Commissioner Jay Dixon noted that Samaritan Health Services has already made its Corvallis campus tobacco-free, posting signs that clearly notify visitors of the rules.
“I think what Samaritan has done, if we just put up some signage, would work fine,” he said.
Some Benton County officials expressed concerns about how the new policy would play out.
Community Development Manager Greg Verret said he was worried about the impact on his smoking employees.
“I’m concerned about their health, but I’m also concerned about them feeling put upon or singled out,” he told the commissioners.
Fair Manager Lonnie Wunder said he had been involved in implementing a similar policy at a previous job in California, and trying to enforce it created problems with the public.
“What we found is that the education part works the best,” he said. “You can’t force people into a corner. They just leave, or they get really upset.”
But Health Department Director Mitch Anderson, whose department pushed for the policy in the first place, told the commissioners that the county had an obligation to promote public health.
“The way I look at it, this is the county commission — which is also the board of health — saying this is a pro-health community, and we need to lead,” he said.
“Even if only one person stops smoking as a result of this, it’s worth the effort.”