Ashley Shaw

Don’t Bring Tobacco to the Ballpark or Cigarettes to Work

Spring training is over and baseball season is here. It’s a time for players to sit in the dugout chewing their tobacco just as they have always done. Only, cities across the country are trying to bring modern times to the sport by eliminating said tradition.

In other words, legislatures all over are making some laws banning smokeless tobacco in ballparks – and that goes for the baseball players too. In honor of these mandates, the MLB has come out and said that it wants players to follow the laws of the locality where they are situated. So, along with a fine from the city that a player might receive for breaking the tobacco law, the player could also be disciplined by the league.

These new laws got me thinking: just like baseball players are ultimately employees who must follow applicable employment laws, so are all of us out there across the country following them as well. And that definitely includes a myriad of smoke and smoke-free tobacco laws.

In honor of baseball players and their increasingly tobacco-free environments, I thought this would be a good time to walk through the variety of tobacco and smoke laws throughout the country, how you should handle them, and what you should be doing to prepare for new laws to come.

Inning 1: Smoking Laws in the USA

So to start your tobacco-compliant game, it is important for you to know the laws. Remember that there can be federal, state, and local laws in your areas, and you need to know all the laws that apply to you for all of your locations.

As far as smoking laws go, most states have laws banning smoking cigarettes in public places. (We will get to other types of laws, such as smoke-free tobacco and e-cigarettes later). Even in those few states where such a ban does not exist, there may be a city law that bans it.

Similarly, even in areas where there is no absolute ban on smoking in public places, there may be some laws that ban smoking in particular areas. For example, maybe you can allow smoking in public if you operate a bar but not an office.

In all likelihood, the odds are that some law is probably banning you from letting people smoke in your workplace. However, there are no laws that require you to allow people to smoke (at work – in a little bit, we will talk about discrimination laws that might not allow you to discriminate against workers who smoke outside of work or in designated smoke areas.) So, if you are ever in doubt, you can rest assured that the safe bet is on enforcing a smoking ban.

No-smoke.org does a good job of rounding up all of these laws. However, you can always ask legal counsel to make sure all of your questions are answered.

Inning 2: Creating a Policy

Now that you’ve gotten off to a good start, keep it up. The game is still early, and you have a lot to do if you want to win the compliance battle. The next step is to create a policy. As already discussed, the chances are your policy is going to ban smoking. However, even if you allow it in your office, document your stance.

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Let people know where they can and cannot smoke and when they are allowed to do so. For example, even if there is a public smoking ban, there might be an exception for a designated smoking area. If so, and you are offering one, make sure employees know where that area is – e.g., outside, 500 feet from the side entrance where the ash tray stations are set up. Also, make sure they know they can use the areas during their break time and not while they are supposed to be at a meeting.

Your policy should be clearly written and easy for employees to understand and follow. There are many sample policies out there that you can use as a template.

Inning 3: Enforcing and Communicating the Policy

You’ve got your game plan down by this point, and you are ready to really get down to business. Now that you know what is going to work for you, do it.

Here is something that can never be stated too many times: a policy does zero good if it is not communicated and enforced. I don’t care if you create the best smoking policy of all time. If your employees do not know about it and there are no consequences for breaking it when it is known, then you might as well have saved the effort of creating it.

Let’s say you decided to ban all smoking, do not just publish the policy – make sure you use your preferred method of communication to let employees know. This could be in an email, during a company-wide meeting, in a sign, or however best your employee gets messages.

In all likelihood, you probably already have some sort of policy in place on this topic. However, periodic reminders can do a world of good – especially if you have many new employees.

Now that everybody knows, make sure they listen. Using the same example from above, your policy says that employees may only smoke by the ash trays 500 feet from the side entrance. However, people continuously go to the front entrance to smoke because it is more convenient. At least they are outside, right?

Definitely not. First, it sets a bad precedent no matter what. However, second, there might be a reason you selected that remote location in the first place. Perhaps an applicable law stated that distance. So start reiterating your policy and requiring employees to listen.

Inning 4: Knowing the Signs

After the third inning of a game, the pitcher has seen all the batters at least once and vice versa. It might be time to start going through some more signs when picking a pitch.

Well, in your tobacco compliance game, you might need some signs too. That is because some states have laws stating the need to post a sign at entrances saying that smoking is banned.

If this applies to you, make sure you have signs in all the required places and that those signs have all the required information on them and are the right size and color.

Inning 5: E-Cigarette Laws

Later in the game, especially if it is close, players may try new things in order to get (or prevent) a run. As cigarette smoking gets more and more restrictions, people look to find other ways around using them.

Right now, the trend has become e-cigarettes. It might seem like an easy compromise to appease smokers who don’t want to have to go out in the bad weather to smoke while still keeping non-smokers happy by allowing people to use e-cigarettes in the workplace.

Not so fast, though. Let me throw you a curveball – the verdict is not out yet on whether e-cigarettes are all that healthy, either. Just like people used to be unaware that cigarettes were so bad, people are afraid that 20 or 30 years from now we will find out that e-cigarettes are dangerous, too.

In the meantime, states and cities are being proactive. In places all around the country, from cities such as Philadelphia and NYC to states such as North Dakota and Hawaii, smoke-free laws are being updated to specifically include e-cigarettes. More are considering it.

While these bans are nowhere near as prolific as those banning smoking, once again, there are no laws that require you to allow e-cigarettes in your workplace. This means that the safe bet is probably banning them.

Inning 6: Smoke-Free Tobacco Laws

We are a little over halfway here since I don’t plan on going into extra innings, so we might as well talk about the laws that got us on this subject in the first place: smokeless tobacco bans.

I can almost guarantee you that if smoking is against the law in your workplace (and as pointed out a few times already, it likely is) then smokeless tobacco probably is as well. Besides, depending on the type of work environment you run, do you really want to have people chewing and spitting that stuff all over your business?

Inning 7: Discrimination Against Smokers

In the late innings of a baseball game, managers start determining whether they should take out a pitcher or take out a player in order to put in a designated hitter.

In my baseball analogy, I am using substitutes as a way to address discrimination. If you are very anti-smoking, then it may be tempting to take out all the smokers from your office. You might want to ban smoking by anyone who works for you at all times. However, this is likely a bad idea.

Many places have laws banning employers from discriminating against employees for smoking or for participating in legal activities (which includes smoking) outside of work. If you have a law like that, then you can no more refuse to hire someone for being a smoker than you could for them being a woman or a member of a specific religious group.

That being said, there is often an exception to this rule for when a smoke-free lifestyles are part of your business function. For example, even if they are located in an area that normally says they cannot discriminate against a smoker, it is unlikely that the American Cancer Society would have to comply with that provision.

Also, there are times when discrimination is a little okay. Case in point, you may be able to have a smoker pay higher health insurance costs.

Inning 8: Keeping Up With Changes

As more and more players are being substituted in as the game progresses, it is important for teams to keep up with everything. In the smoking world, that means you cannot be idle. Make sure you are aware of new laws on this topic that affect you, and adjust your play accordingly.

Closing in the 9th: Final Thoughts

In order to win a game, you have to be able to close. So here we go:

The best way to stay compliant in this area is to know the law and get some verification that what you are doing is in compliance of those laws. So if you have any questions or concerns, make sure you do some research or talk to legal professionals.

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