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New year ushers in pilot smoking ban at county service centers

December 30, 2016 Updated: December 30, 2016 at 7:22 pm
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Jannae Bechtel takes a break from a management class to smoke a cigarette in the smoking area outside of the Citizens Service Center on 1675 Garden of the Gods Road on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. Beginning New Year's Day, no tobacco products will be allowed at this county campus or Centennial Hall campus. It is part of a pilot program aimed at cutting health risks at each facility. There will be no place on the property for smokers to smoke. Carol Lawrence, The Gazette

El Paso County officials want to clear the air at its two flagship facilities.

Beginning New Year's Day, no tobacco products will be allowed at the Citizens Service Center or Centennial Hall campuses as part of a pilot program aimed at cutting health risks.

The ban includes traditional cigarettes, as well as e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco. It applies to employees and visitors alike, and it includes parking areas and open spaces on each property.

"Especially at the Citizens Service Center, you almost have to walk through the smoke to get into the building," said Kristina Iodice, a county spokeswoman, during a recent El Paso County Commissioners meeting. "It is a very obvious health issue, as well as visually for those coming to the campus."

The policy aims to limit exposure to second-hand smoke while limiting health care costs. Every year, more than 480,000 people die from ailments caused by smoking cigarettes - an estimated 41,000 of whom die from exposure to secondhand smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Citizens Service Center Tenants Association first proposed the ban in 2014, and a survey the following year found two-thirds of county employees supported banning tobacco at the campus, Iodice said.

Slightly more than half of the 1,200 county employees responded to the survey, Iodice said. Fifteen percent of respondents said they used tobacco products.

In July, the El Paso County commissioners approved the move at the Citizens Service Center, 1675 Garden of the Gods Road, as well as at the Centennial Hall campus, 200 S. Cascade Ave.

Not everyone supports the move, however.

Commissioner Peggy Littleton likened it to the county banning overweight visitors from the Citizens Service Center's café, and she voiced concerns that the county would lose valuable employees who smoke.

"I don't think it's government's job to dictate behavior," said Littleton, during a recent meeting.

Commissioner Sallie Clark, however, has said the measure could limit trash at each facility, while reducing insurance costs.

Iodice said it's only a test run, and commissioners plan to review the pilot program in roughly six months.

"The amount of cigarette butts all over the place is disgusting," said Conni Jensen, a Department of Human Services employee who has helped implement the policy. "The number of excessive breaks that people take will hopefully decrease. And we've had a really positive response."

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Contact Jakob Rodgers: 476-1654

Twitter: @jakobrodgers

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