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County sends tobacco packing from public buildings

Smoking will be banned on all Multnomah County grounds, including parking lots, starting July 1.

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a new tobacco-free campus policy on Thursday for all county-owned properties. County leaders say it's the first of many steps to improve the health of county employees and those who visit county buildings.

'Social norms about tobacco have changed,' said Sonia Manhas, manager of the county's Community Wellness and Prevention program, during a presentation at Thursday's commissioners' meeting.

The U.S. surgeon general has determined that there's no safe exposure level to second-hand smoke - breathing in smoke exhaled by a nearby smoker - Manhas said, and second-hand smoke causes an estimated 50,000 deaths a year in the U.S.

Michael Hanna, who represents 2,800 county workers as president of Local 88 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, teamed with county public health staff to frame the new policy.

'I understand that some employees would disagree with this campus-free policy on philosophical and personal grounds,' Hanna testified before the commissioners. 'I believe this will benefit the majority of our employees.'

Improving the health of county employees also will lower health care costs for the county, which will benefit everyone, Hanna said.

The new county policy will prevent children and others from being exposed to second-hand smoke near 102nd and East Burnside, where there is a Head Start facility adjacent to other county operations, Manhas said.

State law already bans smoking inside public and commercial buildings, and requires smokers to be at least 10 feet from doors and open windows when they smoke outside. This measure could, in some cases, force smokers to go farther to light up.

Many hospitals have led the way in banning smoking on their campuses, and some colleges have done so as well.

Sometimes the policies pose conflicts. Portland Community College was forced to rethink its smoke-free policy at its Sylvania campus when surrounding residents complained the policy pushed smokers into their residential area.