Fairfax County smoking cessation classes possibly mandatory

"A Cigarette" © 2009 by Haprog via Creative Commons

Fairfax County is considering a proposal to force its employees to attend classes to quit smoking. The classes are currently voluntary. But many employees are wondering if they refuse to take them, would the county dock their pay or fire them?

"It's like, if you're fat are they going to tell me I have to lose weight or you're going to fire me," said Vicki Dawson, an administrative assistant with Fire and Rescue.

The driving force behind the smoking cessation classes is Supervisor Gerry Hyland. He tried years ago to get the county to stop hiring smokers. Right now he says they've got 2,700.

“Smokers clearly have more medical claims, have more serious health problems, they die sooner,” explained Hyland. “And as far as our bottom line, as far as our health care claims, they cost more than other employees who don't smoke.”

Aside from saving money and promoting a healthy workforce, there is something else behind Hyland's push for these required classes, something most people don't know. His sister and father, both smokers, both died at the age of 50.

But some employees are still asking "what's next?" And how would the county enforce mandatory classes? County leaders haven't figured that out yet.

"Would the employee be subject to termination because they don't?” said Hyland. “I don't think so."

Hyland actually wants to take things one step further and ask job applicants if they smoke. The bottom line though, say many smoking employees, you can't strong-arm anyone into kicking the habit.

"Going to that course is not going to make me stop,” noted Dawson. “You have to want to stop and right now I don't want to stop. But it's not the government's right to tell me I have to."

This employer approach to smoking is not unprecedented. A city in south Florida just days ago voted to stop hiring smokers, saying employees who light up cost an extra $12,000 a year in health care costs.

The county attorney in Fairfax will soon let the board of supervisors know if it can in fact legally make those classes mandatory.

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