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St. Croix bans tobacco use on county-owned property

HUDSON -- In a few months, clusters of smokers outside St. Croix County buildings and the litter of cigarette filters in county parks should be things of the past.

Seventeen years ago the County Board voted to ban smoking inside county government buildings and passenger vehicles. On Oct. 20 the board went farther by banning the use of tobacco products on the grounds of county government buildings, at the fairgrounds, in county parks and in all county-owned vehicles and equipment regardless of location.

The tobacco-free policy will be effective Jan. 1, 2010.

The ban makes exceptions for St. Croix Industry clients, who are often developmentally disabled, and residents of the county nursing home in New Richmond. The exceptions do not apply to staff of either program.

The ban was adopted on a 22-5 vote with some supervisors questioning the usefulness of a policy with no penalties and others wondering if it is an unnecessary restriction on county employees who work alone or the public.

"It can be pointed out to somebody (that tobacco use is prohibited), but beyond that no action can be taken against someone," said Corporation Counsel Greg Timmerman of the consequences of violating the tobacco-free policy.

"I don't think we're going far enough," said Supervisor Ken Kolbe, town of Hudson.

He said his workplace went smoke-free 23 years ago, setting penalties ranging from a warning to loss of employment.

While he objects to smoking, the county shouldn't ban tobacco use for Highway Department workers on the road, said Supervisor Gerald Peterson, Baldwin.

"It's one man in a truck by himself," said Peterson, adding that the only one that smoker is hurting is himself.

The smoker is polluting the truck interior for the next driver, countered Supervisor John Borup, North Hudson. Besides, said Borup, the county provides health insurance to pay for medical care for the truck driver.

Supervisor Cindy Leonard, who said she is concerned about turning people away from county parks, offered an amendment to exempt parks from the ban. That amendment failed to pass.

"We can work upstream. We can help kids never start," said Geralyn Karl, health educator and tobacco control specialist. She said the ban sends a clear message to kids that tobacco use isn't the social norm.

One of the most significant things he can do for patients is to help them quit smoking, said Dr. Paul McGinnis, who practices family medicine in Hudson.

"It's not easy, and it's not something that's done lightly," said McGinnis of the policy. "But I think it's the right thing to do."

He said even casual exposure to second-hand smoke is dangerous, especially for those with heart disease.

Supervisor Buzz Marzolf, town of Troy, distributed a report on a study that concluded banning smoking in gathering places reduces the risk of heart attacks for nonsmokers.

Marzolf also told of visiting his older brother, who had been addicted to both alcohol and tobacco, in a nursing home.

The retired teacher said his brother pulled him close and said, "Tell (students) this for me: If they're thinking of smoking or drinking to drink."

The county's tobacco ban will be a "soft policy," said Karl. She said staff will meet with building, parks and fairground managers on how to implement the ban and how to inform people who violate it. Smoking cessation assistance and support will also be offered to county employees.