They do it, but they don't like it.
They are the banished smokers, the people forced to kick the habit by employers bent on clearing the air and answering the cries of other employees.
"I moaned and groaned but I wanted to keep my job so I did not groan too loud," said Ronnie Cervenka, a smoker of 30 years, when she found out in June that her employer, Washington property manager JBG Group, was joining the smoke-free workplace bandwagon.
Cervenka is not alone. Tired of having their own rights abused, smokers are increasingly stepping up to protest the policies of employers insistent on pushing cigarettes out of the workplace.
Over the past decade, nearly 70 percent of all U.S. companies have instituted rules that restrict or limit smoking in the workplace, sometimes to comply with state laws. According to a 1990 survey of 320 companies by the Administrative Management Society in Trevose, Pa., 68 percent reported that they have an official policy regarding smoking in the workplace, up from 60 percent in 1989. Thirty-eight percent of the companies have banned smoking altogether. And the American Cancer Society's annual National Smoke-Out Day, which was last Thursday, is only one of plentiful efforts to get people to quit voluntarily.
Concerned about the trend, a group called the Smokers Rights Alliance was formed three years ago, and it now claims to represent the 53 million Americans who want to smoke but can't, at least on the job.
"Clearly, the employer has the right to dictate no smoking in their facility, no question about that in our minds," said Dave Brenton, president of the alliance. But, he added, "There is an opposing right that exists -- employees working for a company for a number of years without that policy had the implied right to smoke on the job, which was unilaterally removed.
"I am troubled by that concept. In cases where an individual is covered by a collective bargaining agreement, smoking in the workplace is a contract-negotiable item," he said.
Brenton also challenges assertions that smoking at work is a health hazard.
"The issue centers around the allegations that smoking in the workplace constitutes a health issue to nonsmokers. ... Unfortunately for those saying that, there is no evidence. If you deal with science, no studies deal with commercial institutions," he said.
He heatedly points out that there is a "world of difference" between average ventilation standards for residences, which are substantially lower, and those for commercial facilities.
The typical commercial facility should be changing air about six times an hour, while in homes the air change occurs only about once every two to three hours, he said.
Many smokers agree with Brenton, but many also manage to kick the habit with the help of their employers.
Cervenka said the only way she can quit smoking is to "lock me up in a room or send me to drug rehab." But, much as she hates to admit it, she thinks it was a good idea to implement the policy.
"I didn't like the idea at all," Cervenka said. "Previously, we could smoke at our desks. When we moved to a new office, we were limited to smoking in a lounge, and now we can only smoke outside the building."
Through a company-sponsored training program to help smokers quit, Cervenka was able to cut down to less than a pack a day from her daily pack and a half. Unlike some smokers, Cervenka doesn't have to smoke to be able to work.
"Quitting smoking is an extremely personal behavior and we had to personalize the program to suit the person," said Frederick Weston, president of the Last Pack, a smoking management system that has been used by some 200 companies over the last five years. He added that there has been no official study evaluating the effectiveness of the training, but he believes that 20 percent of those who receive the training quit smoking for good.
Weston said that the Last Pack system involves an introductory meeting that costs $175 to attend, a cost that is picked up by employers. He describes it as a "workplace communication program" designed to help smokers adjust to a smoke-free workplace in 60 to 90 days.
The Calvert Group, a Bethesda-based financial group, lowered the boom on smokers last spring and also used the Last Pack system to help employees quit. On Sept. 4, the company marked its first official no-smoking day.
"We gave people time to work out their smoking habits," said Judy Shober, employment coordinator at the Calvert Group.
Shober said the program drew no protest from smokers in the company. She cited a survey of 190 employees in which the majority -- 75 percent -- indicated that some smoking guidelines were needed in the office.