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Federal Diary

HHS Is Getting Even Tougher on Tobacco Use by Employees

By Stephen Barr
Friday, November 12, 2004; Page B02

The Health and Human Services Department will ban the use of tobacco on its campuses starting in January as part of Secretary Tommy G. Thompson's initiative to get Americans to quit smoking, officials said.

HHS will provide employees who use tobacco with free counseling and products for coping with withdrawal, such as gum and patches, if such assistance is not covered by their health insurance. The "tobacco cessation program" will be operated by Federal Occupational Health, a branch of the Public Health Service, the officials said.

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The department does not have an estimate of how many smokers work at its facilities, HHS spokesman Bill Pierce said. The department has about 66,000 employees.

HHS policy already prohibits smoking in buildings and near buildings. The new "tobacco-free HHS" policy will expand the ban to include smokeless tobacco products (such as chew and snuff) and extends the area for enforcement to outdoor property. Areas previously designated for outdoor smoking will be eliminated.

A presidential order and the Public Health Service Act permit HHS to prohibit the use of tobacco products on its property as a means of discouraging unhealthy behaviors, officials said.

HHS plans to begin encouraging employees next week to seek help for their tobacco cravings so that they will have time to prepare for the policy's launch on Jan. 1, officials said.

But the tobacco-free policy will not apply to HHS smokers in a uniform manner, in part because some union contracts include provisions that guarantee smoking breaks for employees. In addition, negotiations will be needed to determine whether the policy can be implemented at some properties that are leased or are on land of sovereign Indian nations.

As labor contracts expire, HHS will negotiate the removal of provisions that go against the policy, an official said.

During the summer, HHS banned outdoor smoking at the Baltimore campus of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as part of workplace changes growing out of a ruling by a federal labor panel. The Baltimore ban caused some controversy, in part because it called on security officers to write tickets, with fines as high as $50, for outdoor smoking.

Compliance with the new HHS-wide policy will be accomplished through administrative remedies, an official said. Security officers who encounter employees using tobacco on HHS property will issue warnings and may take employee names and badge numbers and submit them to supervisors for further action, the official said.

On Wednesday, Thompson announced renewed efforts to get Americans to quit smoking, including a new Web site (www.smokefree.gov). As part of the announcement, he unveiled plans to ban tobacco use on HHS campuses.

OPM's Constitutional Confab

The Office of Personnel Management sent about 70 executives this week to Philadelphia for a management retreat. Among their stops was the National Constitution Center, a museum on Independence Mall that tells the story of the U.S. Constitution.

An agency spokesman said the trip was a warm-up for an initiative being planned by OPM Director Kay Coles James to heighten awareness and respect for the oath of office that federal employees take when they join the government. In the oath, federal employees swear "that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

The executives went to Philadelphia on Monday afternoon and returned Wednesday afternoon. The OPM spokesman said James held management retreats in previous years in Charlottesville and Gettysburg, Pa., and called this week's session "a good idea to get us away from e-mails and phone calls."

Talk Shows

Tammy Flanagan, a retirement planning and benefits expert at the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc., will be the guest on "FEDtalk" at 11 a.m. today on federalnewsradio.com.

Fran P. Mainella, director of the National Park Service, will be the guest on "The Business of Government Hour" at 9 a.m. tomorrow on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).

"A Health Plan for After-the-Election Blues" will be the topic of discussion on the Imagene B. Stewart call-in program at 8 a.m. Sunday on WOL radio (1450 AM).

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com


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