Jeffco commissioner wants tobacco-free county facilities

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By AJ Vicens

If Faye Griffin had her way, there would be no tobacco use at the county's main administrative building and courthouse in Golden, and possibly in other county facilities.

"This is for the health of our employees," said Griffin, a first-term county commissioner who said a tobacco-free government campus is a goal she'll pursue. "It's not to be mean. It's just because we care about the employees."

Griffin is in the very early stages of trying to convert the Jefferson County Courts and Administration Building in Golden to a tobacco-free area.

The idea came when she recently learned that Exempla Lutheran Medical Center in Wheat Ridge went tobacco-free in 2008. She credits Donna Viverette of the Jeffco health department's Tobacco Prevention Initiative with helping her understand the problems associated with tobacco.

Viverette was traveling last week and couldn't be reached for comment, but her office provided several key facts related to tobacco use. For instance, nearly 5 million people die every year because of tobacco use, according to the World Health Organization. If current trends continue, that number will double to 10 million deaths per year by 2020. Also, going tobacco-free — not just smoke-free — improves the health of all, including smokeless tobacco users and those who breathe second-hand smoke.

"By requiring tobacco users to leave campus/work sites to use tobacco, de-normalization of use occurs, significantly reducing the modeling of tobacco use to young people and adults committed to staying tobacco-free," Viverette said in a document describing tobacco-free efforts.

Viverette has put together a timeline describing the steps necessary to create a tobacco-free government campus. First, Griffin and other county leaders would have to get county employees and the public to support the effort, which would involve setting a deadline for the campus to be tobacco-free and deciding the limits of the ban. The county also would need to determine how many of its employees use tobacco and gauge their interest in quitting.

The next step is developing the actual plan, including enforcement actions, personnel policies associated with tobacco use, and offering tobacco-cessation programs to employees and their families at least six months prior to prohibiting tobacco use on campus. Part of the plan is getting a tobacco-cessation drug covered under county employees' health insurance.

"There are obviously a lot of things we need to do," Griffin said. She hasn't discussed any of the costs associated with the plan, including getting insurance to cover a tobacco-cessation drug. She did speculate, however, that the county could save money on health insurance if all employees gave up tobacco use.

The plan may take years to implement, but Griffin wants to get moving as soon as possible. She added that she doesn't want to spring this on county employees, who she suspects might not take to the plan initially.

"There could be a lot," she said, when asked about resistance from employees and the public. "There are a lot of problems that we have not even discussed."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.