The term smoke free environment is sometimes used indiscriminately to discuss both 100 percent smoke free areas as well as ventilated ones. Truly smoke free environment in a business is one in which no smoking is allowed within any company building or vehicle.  Depending on the company, smoking may be permitted in certain outdoor areas designated for that purpose.  In other companies, the smoke free policy prohibits any smoking on company property. Employees who smoke either have to leave company grounds to do so, or must abstain from smoking while at work.

Developing and Implementing a Smoke Free Work Environment

The most important factor in creating a smoke free environment is having a solid understanding of the workforce. By factoring in the needs of each employee segment, smokers and nonsmokers, and achieving some “buy-in,” a small business can reduce or avoid problems down the road. From the very beginning, the involvement of individual employees (again, smokers and nonsmokers alike) in the development of a nonsmoking policy is crucial. Be supportive of employee efforts to stop smoking as well. Many businesses have found the investment in or reimbursement for smoking cessation programs and tools to the money well spent.  Some companies even provide a monetary award to successful quitters. 

Depending on the elements of your policy, you may feel to establish a designated area for smoking. Placing the area outdoors eliminates the expense of a separate ventilation system but may have undesired consequences such as longer break times, and possibly the additional expense of building a shelter, if this is needed

Be sure to factor efforts on how employee habits, such as frequent breaks, impact on employee’s job.  In other words, keep policy and discussions steered toward job performance, rather than the issue of smoking. It is important to establish guidelines that impact all employees, such as those regarding breaks, and then enforce them on a consistent basis for the entire staff. Any discussions of violations to these should address the impact of employee actions on performance. Leave smoking out of the discussion entirely.

Once a small business has developed its nonsmoking policy, it should provide early notice of the policy, prior to implementation. This allows employees to consider the consequences of behavior and, if need be, to make efforts to quit smoking, such as a cessation program or monetary rewards. It may be more successful to implement a smoke free policy in stages. For example, smoking might first be restricted to a designated area, then eliminated from company property entirely. However, the success of gradual implementation can vary from workplace to workplace. 

Once established, a small business’s smoke free environment should also take into account new employees. While there are no laws prohibiting discrimination against smokers, questioning prospective staff as to their smoking habits is ill-advised` Not hiring smokers may be defensible for an organization like a cancer society, but not for small employers. A more acceptable position is to alert candidates at the time of the interview to the small business’s nonsmoking policy and its associated standards of acceptable behavior.

Finally, it is especially important for a small business to regularly revisit its smoking policy, along with other human resources policies. Local, state and federal laws and regulations are in a constant state of flux over this issue.  It pays to review these laws regularly and in conjunction with a legal advisor. The burden of litigation over such issues is a heavy one for a small business to bear. In addition, a shifting employee population may make some changes necessary. Seeking input from employees help to both promote and refine the policy.

Effect on Customers

The implications of a smoke free environment in small businesses such as restaurants, bars, and shops also extend to customers.  For these types of businesses, local and state laws and regulations may also be more straightforward. Many states and municipalities already limit or eliminate smoking in the public areas of these businesses. 

If the institution of a smoke free environment at a small business is not tied to any governmental regulations or requirements that are already known by the general public, a small business should consider giving advance notice of the policy to their customers. A simple posting at the door as well as personal verbal or written notice to regular clients can go a long way to ensure customers’ responsiveness and compliance.  Finally, in cases where customers ignore the policy, it is important to courteously but consistently administrate it, even at the risk of losing those customers. 

The implementation of a smoke free environment is a complex process for any small business. By using legal counsel to wade through the maze of pertinent laws and regulations, working with employees to develop a policy, and communicating the policy regularly to employees and customers, a small business can ensure its efforts are successful.

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