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Largo leaders reject smoking ban, for now

Published May 10, 2011

LARGO - City leaders unanimously voted against a policy to ban on-the-clock smoking for city workers.

But the decision at Tuesday night's City Commission meeting wasn't based on all-out disapproval. At least four of the seven-member city commission support such a policy. Most, however, felt the proposed resolution needed to be retooled. They directed city staff to tweak it and bring it back later.

The current proposal would prohibit employees from smoking on city property or using tobacco during work hours. Workers still could light up on their lunch breaks.

It also would give a hiring preference to nonsmokers. That was the sticking point for some commissioners.

Susan Sinz, the city's human resources director, said a tobacco-free workplace could save the city money. Largo has about 900 employees, nearly 120 of whom smoke, she said.

"Most importantly, it is a long-term policy decision in order to reduce costs. All of the health conditions related to smoking cost a lot of money," Sinz said before the meeting.

She told commissioners that the city had 26 catastrophic claims two years ago, about a third related to smoking.

Commissioners Woody Brown, Gigi Arntzen and Harriet Crozier said they supported the on-the-clock ban, but opposed the hiring preference.

Brown said it likely wasn't necessary because banning smoking would discourage smokers from applying.

Mayor Pat Gerard said she was in favor of the bulk of the proposal, including the hiring preference.

"It's about how much we're all going to save on our health premiums because we don't hire people that smoke," she said.

Commissioner Curtis Holmes and Vice Mayor Robert Murray opposed the policy.

Holmes, an ex-smoker, said it seemed draconian.

"We're basically regulating their personal life while they're on the job," he said.

Murray said he was not convinced about savings and felt it unfair to put an extra burden on workers taking home less money. No raises are proposed in next year's budget.

Tobacco-free policies are common with law enforcement and fire departments in Pinellas County, Sinz said. Largo has had such a policy for police and firefighters since the early 1990s.

But such bans are not common for rank-and-file workers in Pinellas County, Sinz said.

In October, Clearwater banned workers from smoking during work or on city property. Several years ago, South Pasadena imposed a similar ban and stopped hiring smokers.

Neither St. Petersburg nor Pinellas County has such a policy.