Critics fault county’s weak no-smoking rules

HUDSON—Columbia County’s smoking policy is not up to snuff.

That’s according to Rip Van Winkle Tobacco-Free Action of Columbia and Greene Counties Program Director Karen dePeyster and Communications Coordinator Lisa Heintz, who made a presentation on the subject at the Board of Supervisors Health and Medical Services Committee meeting last week.

What the county actually has is a resolution dated February 21, 2007, which declares “entranceways to the County Office Buildings to be smoke free….” The reasoning is that “the expanded Clean Indoor Air Act prohibits smoking in public workplaces” and “smoking in outdoor areas promotes littering, obstructs doorways and passageways and further endangers the lives of those smoking and non-smoking persons.”

But according to the Tobacco-Free Action program, the resolution is vague, has no definitions, does not require signs, has no enforcement provisions and “no mechanism” for informing employees that the county has a policy.

What the Tobacco-Free program is hoping for is “a real comprehensive policy,” Ms. dePeyster said by phone, Tuesday.

While Columbia County was among the first to have a smoke-free resolution, it has never really been effective. To illustrate that point, Tobacco-Free Action compiled and submitted a report to the Columbia County Department of Health called, An Evaluation of the Smoking Policy at County Buildings: Observations and Recommendations, dated January 10, 2012.

The 22-page document includes background, findings, comments and photos based on what Ms. dePeyster and Ms. Heintz found when they visited the buildings and grounds of nine county-owned sites: Human Services building, 325 Columbia Street; County Court House, 401 Union Street; Department of Motor Vehicles, 560 Warren Street; Department of Social Services, 25 Railroad Avenue; Public Safety Building, 85 Industrial Tract, Greenport; Probation Department and Public Defender’s Office, 610 State Street; Board of Supervisors, Board of Elections, Youth Bureau, County Attorney, 401 State Street; County Highway Department, 178 State Route 23B, Greenport and Pine Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, 201 Main Street, Philmont.

Some places had “No Smoking” signs, others did not; there was cigarette butt litter; unmaintained and unemptied cigarette butt receptacles; some places had designated smoking areas close to buildings allowing smoke to waft inside when windows are open, some places had no designated smoking areas; some places had “smoking huts,” others did not.

Report photos show improvised butt receptacles, overflowing butt receptacles and receptacles at doorways where no smoking is allowed, butts strewn on the ground, signs or the lack of signs, smoking areas and in an accompanying Power Point presentation—a photo of a smoker sitting next to the pillars outside the entrance to the Department of Motor Vehicles with cigarette in hand.

To complicate the issue, electronic cigarettes or e-cigs have now become popular and while these battery-powered devices do not contain tobacco, they do contain nicotine delivered in a vapor when inhaled. Instead of smoking, it’s “vaping.”

“E-cigs are controversial and too much about them remains unknown,” said Ms. DePeyster. With more than 200 manufacturers of the devices to deal with as opposed to “the big three tobacco companies,” the Federal Drug Administration seems to have had a problem getting a handle on regulation of the product, she said.

“Only e-cigarettes that are marketed for therapeutic purposes are currently regulated by the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER). Currently, the FDA Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) regulates cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco,” according to the FDA website, www.fda.gov.

The Tobacco-Free Action program recommends that the process for developing the new policy be inclusive and representative of all county employees.

Ms. dePeyster suggests using policies in place in Essex and Clinton counties as a model for a comprehensive county policy. Copies of those policies provided in the program’s report address all the issues noted from definitions to enforcement.

Contacted for his comments on the presentation and issue, Greenport Supervisor John Porecca, who chairs the Health and Medical Services Committee, said in an email that the committee discussed the matter about two months ago and that both Ms. dePeyster and Ms. Heintz have expressed concerns about the county’s smoking policy in previous discussions with him.

He said that Board of Supervisors Chairman Patrick Grattan (R-Kinderhook) empathized with the concerns of the Rip Van Winkle Tobacco Group and agreed to hear the presentation last week. Though current Pine Haven issues were also part of the meeting, Mr. Porecca said he does not believe the smoking policy “took a back seat” and “was somewhat happy that the Health Employees from Pine Haven were in attendance to hear the concerns Karen and Lisa had to say in their presentation.”

Noting the need for revising the existing resolution to include a more comprehensive non-smoking plan that also addresses e-cigarettes, Mr. Porecca said, “I will entertain the discussion at our next Health and Medical Committee meeting in June with the members and see what their input may be.

“I am not sure we need another committee as this could be handled by the existing Health and Medical Committee in my opinion especially if the committee members agree to just updating the existing resolution, making the modifications and include the e-cigarettes as part of the policy for Columbia County Buildings.”

Rip Van Winkle Tobacco-Free Action of Columbia and Greene Counties is a Community Partnership funded by the New York State Department of Health Tobacco Control Program and is a program of the Healthcare Consortium.

To contact Diane Valden email .

 

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