ELIZABETHTOWN — A proposal to make the Essex County Government Center smoke-free met with some resistance from county lawmakers this week.
The change to the Essex County Tobacco Policy proposed by the County Board of Supervisors’ Tobacco Policy Subcommittee would have outlawed all smoking on county property effective on the Nov. 15 date of the American Cancer Society’s 37th-annual Great American Smoke Out.
The smoke-free prohibition would have included the County Public Safety Building and County Jail in Lewis.
But the board’s Human Services Committee took no action on the request, with many supervisors citing difficulties in enforcing an outright ban on tobacco usage.
Jessica Darney-Buehler of the County Public Health Department said they wanted to open a discussion with the committee to gauge feelings on the policy change.
“This is something that would be approved by the board,” Buehler said.
Buehler said she sent a mass email to county workers recently offering to help them quit smoking and providing free nicotine patches, gum and so on.
“We had a response. It did help some.”
The county has several designated smoking areas, mostly located behind county buildings. Those would be eliminated if the county went smoke-free.
“The more support there is on every level to create a society where tobacco-free is the norm, that’s good,” Buehler said.
Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Douglas (D-Jay) said they don’t have the personnel to enforce a local law on smoking.
“I’m a little leery of smoke-free,” he said. “I’ve seen them (smokers) out on the sidewalks near CVPH (in Plattsburgh), throwing cigarette butts. I don’t want to create a situation for someone else.”
Unless a local law were passed to ban smoking in public, similar to an open-container law, people could still smoke on public sidewalks, Buehler said.
“On the sidewalks?” Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah) questioned. “I know smoking is a dirty habit. It’s not illegal. At what point do we stop regulating people’s lives?”
Scozzafava is a smoker who said he’s tried to quit many times over the years.
Essex County Sheriff Richard Cutting said a tobacco-free regulation might not work well at the County Jail in Lewis.
“I was a smoker for 20 years; it’s been 21 years since I quit,” Cutting said. “My people would either have to go to one of two gas stations (nearby) or to a high grass field or to a swamp. It creates a security issue.”
The committee put off voting on the recommendation until more information is available and it can be discussed by the full Board of Supervisors.
“I think what we have is a difference of opinion between individual rights and the rights of everyone else who deals with smokers,” Supervisor David Blades (R-Lewis) said. “The bottom line is 18 of us will decide what that policy is going to be.”
He suggested anyone with questions or suggestions attend meetings of the Tobacco Policy Subcommittee. The next meeting is at 9 a.m. Monday, June 24, in the Old County Courthouse at Elizabethtown.
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