Randy Creller, chairman of the county’s Employees Advisory Council, dismissed the idea of mandatory classes as one that will never win enough backing.
“I just don’t think they can do that,” he said. “I don’t see it happening.”
Several members of the Board of Supervisors agreed.
Pat S. Herrity (R-Springfield) said that he wants the county to reduce smoking among its workforce but that he probably wouldn’t support a proposal to make cessation classes mandatory. He would rather see the county invest in incentives for not smoking and a more robust employee-wellness program.
“I like the carrot versus the stick,” he said.
Supervisor Jeff C. McKay (D-Lee) said forced classes are “a step further than I’m willing to go.” He, too, wants an employee-wellness program that includes reduced insurance premiums for those who take part.
“I think if you’re a smoker and you want to participate in a voluntary wellness program that translates into premium discounts, then you should be required to attend [cessation] classes,” McKay said.
Bruce Elliott, an official with the Society for Human Resource Management, a trade association, said he isn’t aware of any employers requiring cessation classes. He warned against them, saying they could create resentment among workers and ultimately reduce productivity.
A representative of the American Civil Liberties Union said the group would probably oppose forced cessation classes, as it does bans on hiring smokers.
Audrey Silk, founder of the New York-based Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, called Hyland’s suggestion “Orwellian.”
“It would be government dictating how you live,” she said. “Smoking and tobacco aren’t illegal.”
Even anti-smoking advocates cautioned against required cessation courses.
“It’s not a good thing to force people to try to quit if they’re not ready,” said Alexander of the American Lung Association.
Ellen Vargyas, general counsel for the American Legacy Foundation, an anti-smoking group, said enacting such a policy could put the county on a slippery slope.
“Would overweight workers be required to go into Weight Watchers?” Vargyas asked.
She said incentivizing participation is a better way to go. “A person’s job shouldn’t hang in the balance, as this suggests,” she said. “Smoking isn’t just a bad habit. It’s a serious addiction.”
Hyland said he has never smoked, save for a few puffs from a pipe that an old girlfriend gave him, but he sympathizes with those who do. His parents smoked multiple packs a day, and he saw them struggle with their addiction and health problems.
“That’s one of the reasons I think this is so important,” he said.