Workers, visitors complying with new tobacco ban at county facilities

Published Jan 11, 2018 at 4:00pm

Oneida County employees and visitors to county facilities are adapting to the new ban on the use of tobacco products and electronic cigarettes on property owned or leased by the county.

Until Dec. 31 there had been designated areas outside of county buildings where smokers could light up.

However, the start of the new year brought with it a local law prohibiting the use on county property of cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, powdered tobacco or any other matter that contains tobacco, as well as e-cigarettes. Violators can be fined as much as $1,000.

The use of tobacco products had been banned inside county buildings for many years. However, as an accommodation to smokers, it was permissible to light up outside the buildings. Now that alternative has been eliminated.

“We haven’t had to make any arrests yet,” said Sheriff Robert M. Maciol during a news conference about the law Wednesday at the County Office Building, Utica.

“But that option is there for people who fail to comply,” the county sheriff added.

Signs promoting the tobacco and e-device ban have been posted throughout county properties, and handouts to educate the public about the policy are being given out by Maciol’s deputies patrolling such facilities as the County Office Building and Union Station.

“This is important,” said County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. “We want our community to be healthier.”

He noted that reducing the number of smokers has been one of the county’s priority goals for improving the overall health of residents.

The percentage of adult smokers in the county population stood at 23 in 2014 compared with the statewide percentage of 15, said Health Director Phyllis D. Ellis.

She also noted that there are an estimated 443,000 tobacco-product related deaths annually in the United States. In addition, exposure to secondhand smoke causes about 41,000 deaths each year among adults.

The local law prohibiting tobacco and e-device use was unanimously approved by the Board of Legislators in November 2016.

The ban was enacted “in an effort to provide a healthy, clean, and safe environment for all employees, clients, residents and visitors,” states the legislative intent section of the law.

Following the law’s passage, the county Health Department conducted an educational campaign for employees and the public to prepare them for the change.

“We provided education to all of the employees over the year, identifying that this will be a smoke-free campus and what can we do to help you, if you’re interested in quitting, so it doesn’t just start on January 1st,” said Ellis.

“Quitline materials were given out, health- and wellness-focused initiatives were occurring in the community,” the county health director added.

In addition to property owned and leased by Oneida County, the law also prohibits tobacco and e-device use in county-owned vehicles or privately-owned vehicles used for county business.

A driver may use a tobacco product or e-device in a privately-owned vehicle being used for county business if the driver is the sole occupant of the vehicle, officials said.

A person violating the law can be issued a violation punishable by a civil penalty that includes a fine up to $200 for the first offense and a fine up to a $1,000 for a second and each subsequent offense.

Mohawk Valley Community College, which is sponsored by the county, has prohibited smoking and tobacco and tobacco-related products at all college buildings, facilities and grounds since Aug. 15, 2016.