Category Archives: Workplace smoking

Lawsuit filed over “smoke shacks” built by Great Falls bars, injunctions filed, groups formed, it’s a mess

This is a hell of a convoluted story. It’s too complicated to tell the whole story here, so I’ll sum up … It’s a city/county health department fighting the courts, owner of some Great Falls, Montana bars and a citizens’ group has gotten in the middle of it. It’s all over things called “smoke shacks.”

I only know of one bar locally that has one of these “smoke shacks” (Another one has some shelter in an alley behind the bar, but that’s different).

Under Montana law, bar owners could install a “smoke shack” in their bars. It’s usually a really small room, with a few video gambling machines, completely cut off from the rest of the bar. So, if you really want to smoke inside and play video poker or whatever, you kind of get shut off alone in these little rooms.

The owners of a bunch of casinos built these smoke shacks, but then received notices from the city and county that they were violating the state’s clean air act. The bar owners finally filed suit over it. The city and county health department requested an injunction against the smoking shelters and lost.

According this article, the judge ruled that the health department “took a ‘kaleidoscope of ever-shifting interpretations,’ concerning smoking structures in Cascade County, and that the board failed to adopt a coherent and logical interpretation of the Clean Indoor Air for bars and casinos in Cascade County.”

So… it gets more convoluted, because now a citizens’ group has gotten involved on the side of the city and the county, mad that these bars in Great Falls have found loopholes in the Clean Air act.

One of the strangest parts of this article is an interview with a former smoker/gambler:

Doug Richardson watched the tavern industry change from a gaming machine in the Palace Casino.

He was there before the law, when the law was implemented and today after the smoking shelters were built.

He smoked like any other gambler, until he was diagnosed with emphysema.

Now whenever he’s around smoke, whether it’s someone smoking a cigarette outside or if he’s near a backyard fire pit, his lungs act up and he has to use a rescue inhaler.

“These rooms have at least cured that as far as coming into places where people are smoking outside,” Richardson said. “They should build rooms like this. It takes the smoker away from people and into their own zone.”

Richardson was playing a game at the Palace Casino, adjacent to one of the Palagis’ smoke lounges, and he said on any given day the smoking room is full and there’s not a hint of smoke inside the main facility.

Whoa, the guy is dying of emphysema and he needs an inhaler if he’s around cigarette smoke, but I give him credit for being so tolerant toward smokers.

Anyway, it’s a big honkin legal mess … and headed to court, if not the State Legislature.

Personally, I’m not worked up about it too much, but it’s annoying to me when bars try to find these loopholes and just don’t deal with the fact that smoking bans are the future.

Smoking ban relaxed in Casper


Here’s something you don’t see very often. A town actually remove or relax a smoking ban.

Late last month, Casper, Wyo., removed its smoking ban on bars because some bar owners complained to the city that the ban was hurting their business (the ban is still in place in restaurants.).

Smokefree advocates are now collecting signatures for a voter referendum to restore the smoking ban. Not sure how such a referendum would do in such a Libertarian/conservative state like Wyoming, but it would be interesting to see.

Wyoming has no statewide smoking ban and likely will NEVER have a statewide smoking ban as it is one of the most anti-regulation, conservative states in the nation. I know Cheyenne and Laramie have smoking bans, and Jackson, Wyo., attempted to implement a smoking ban, but that ban was tossed by a Wyoming court because the wrong agency implemented it (a county health board). Casper is the second-biggest city in Wyoming next to Cheyenne.

Interesting, bar owners claimed the ban hurt their business, but according to this Casper article from April, there didn’t seem to be any effect in the bars. I’ve always thought some bar owners exaggerate some these claims, but of course, without looking at their books, who knows? At the very least, with the ban in place for only two or three months, business owners and more importantly, the city council, did not give the ban a legitimate chance.

I’ve seen this happen before. It only takes a handful of “squeaky wheels” to get a small town government council to respond (I’ve seen three or four loud parents talk school boards into sneaking intelligent design into their curricula, etc.). Again, I’m not that dogmatic about bar smoking bans, but I hate to see a small town council NOT give their new regulations a chance to succeed, and I hate to see a small town council cave to a small  and likely loud group of complainers.

Interestingly, they held a referendum to get rid of a smoking ban in Springfield, Mo., and Missouri is a pretty conservative, anti-regulatory state … the referendum failed with the pro-ban side getting 64 percent of the vote.

I wish the petitioners luck and I’ll be keeping an eye on if it succeeds.

Smokers cost employers an average of $5,800 a year


Yoiks, I can only imagine the comments at the old Smokers’ Club (I haven’t a clue if that is even around anymore. It’s been years since I looked.) on this story!

According to an Ohio State University researcher — between absenteeism caused by added health problems and lost productivity due to smoking breaks, smokers cost companies on the average of $5,800 a year and possibly up to $10,000 a year.

Let me do some math on that smoking break thing. Say a smoker, not too heavy of a smoker, takes four smoking breaks during an eight-hour shift. Say each break takes 10 minutes. That’s 40 minutes a day in lost productivity. That’s 200 minutes a week. That’s 10,000 minutes a year.

10,000 minutes = 160 hours a year. Say a smoker makes a relatively modest wage, $15 an hour, that comes up to $2,400 a year in lost productivity in of itself.

Here’s the OSU numbers. Pretty close to what I did in my head:

The OSU researchers’ calculations show low productivity due to excess absenteeism costs employers, on average, $517 a year per smoking employee and working while sick cost $462. Smoking breaks tack on $3,077 and excess healthcare another $2,056.

There is a LOT of data showing smokers increase everyone’s insurance premiums, which is why many employers now add a premiums surcharge for smokers and some companies won’t hire smokers, period. So, I think that $5,800 a year number, while it sounds surprising, is totally plausible.

The study was published in Tobacco Control.

Workplaces banning smokers — period. Is that cool?

Here is something I’ve written about before, employers not only banning people from smoking on the premises, but refusing to hire smokers and firing people for being smokers.

This USA Today article looks at this. There are a growing number of companies that are doing this, even including nicotine in the list of things they drug test for. If employees test positive for nicotine, boom, they’re out the door.

Hospitals and health organizations have led the way on this. The reasoning is two-fold:

  • A) Smokers raise the health insurance premiums of everyone — smokers and nonsmokers alike. (And this is true. It’s been well-documented.)
  • B) Smokers also have a higher level of absenteeism and illness than nonsmokers and thus their productivity is affected (Also well-documented).

That being said, this still smells very wrong to me. I prefer the carrot approach to cutting down smoking, not the stick. This is kind of where I split from the rest of the anti-tobacco lobby.

I’m perfectly OK with employers charging higher insurance premiums to smokers. I think that’s completely fair because smokers do cost everyone money and should pay their share. At the same time, I’m also OK for higher premiums for being who are obese, because obesity causes nearly as many health problems as smoking (and may cause more premature deaths than smoking within the next 10 to 15 years.). But, refusing to hire people and firing people? Smells wrong.

What I personally would VASTLY prefer is if companies helped pay for smoking cessation programs for their employees, with the “carrot” being lower premiums if they are successful in quitting. If smokers don’t want to go through the program and are OK paying higher premiums, that’s their prerogative.

As far as I know, no smokers has ever won an anti-discrimination suit against a company for refusing to hire smokers or firing someone. I’ve scoured the Internet. People have filed suit, but I haven’t found a case in which a smoker has won or got a policy overturned. For the moment, it appears in certain states, companies have the right to do this. Apparently under federal law, smokers are not considered a “class” of person, so this is a legal practice under federal law.

People have sued and have won cases for being fired for being overweight. What’s the difference? No employer in his right mind is going to fire someone for being fat and then telling them that to their faces (places like Hooters can get away with this somehow). But, you can fire a smoker because they smoke on their own time?

A total of 29 states have passed laws protecting smokers’ rights, but in 21 states, companies can still fire and refuse to hire smokers. I really think this goes too far. I’m not comfortable with it.

(As an aside, I noticed one charity quoted — the American Lung Association — as not hiring smoking. Hah, OK, I can see that!)