Wilmington, North Carolina, considering adopting stricter tobacco policy that would prohibit all employees from smoking or using tobacco products at work by 2014

WILMINGTON, North Carolina , October 12, 2012 () – The city of Wilmington is considering adopting a stricter tobacco policy that would prohibit all employees from smoking or using tobacco products at work by 2014.

The proposed change, designed to lower health care costs, is modeled after one at New Hanover Regional Medical Center.

The city already prohibits anyone from smoking in city buildings or vehicles.

"The new policy, if implemented, would bar employees from smoking while they're on the job, no matter where they are," said Dylan Lee, a city spokesman.

The city is briefing employees of the proposal this month and next month. If it receives budget approval, the city will offer an incentive to employees who don't use tobacco in July 2013. If the incentive is approved, employees who sign an affidavit certifying they do not use tobacco will receive a reduced health insurance premium.

Roughly 18 percent of city workers said they smoked, according to the results of a wellness assessment.

The change would likely impact public safety employees more than anyone else, Lee said. Typically, firefighters work 24-hour shifts and police officers work 12-hour shifts.

But the possibility has been on the horizon and shouldn't come as a surprise to firefighters, said Battalion Chief David Hines. The department has been warning employees for a couple of years that the changes were coming.

The city has standing committees on benefits and wellness that examine operations and try to cut costs. According to a city estimate, going tobacco-free at work could result in $288,553 per year in claims savings.

The fire department has encouraged employees to try to quit smoking. Hines has seen some with electronic cigarettes.

Adults trying to quit using tobacco are eligible for support from the city's insurer, BlueCross BlueShield. That includes classes, support groups, counseling and free nicotine replacements through June 30, 2014.

The city council was briefed on the proposal last week at an agenda meeting.

Mayor Bill Saffo supports the proposal and said he sees it as a proactive way to manage health care costs.

Eventually, the proposal will be heard by the council because it will involve a change to the city's insurance coverage, though the time frame is uncertain.

Julian March: 343-2099

On Twitter: @julian_march


(c)2012 the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.)

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