Southampton City Council has outlawed smoking during working hours as part of an anti-smoking drive. The public sector organisation will also pay for its workers’ nicotine patches under its recently devised healthy working initiative. Under the new policy, which comes into effect on 1 July, smoking rooms will close and staff will be banned from lighting up on coffee breaks or even having a cigarette when out on business.
Andrea Guest, social development officer at the authority, said: "The city council has reviewed its smoking policy; it’s entirely non-smoking for 2005. Staff are not allowed to smoke on council time at all." She said that the "cruel to be kind" strategy has met with mixed reaction. "There have been some strong objections but similarly some staff are very supportive and object to the current position where smokers take additional cigarette breaks and stand in doorways to smoke." Alongside the smoking restrictions, the council has launched quitters’ groups for employees trying to kick the habit.
The groups are being run by trained therapists and will be promoted in the staff magazine, using case studies of successful quitters. The changes are part of a year-long healthy workforce project. As part of the drive to get staff to take better care of themselves, the council is also piloting healthy eating taster sessions, where staff can sample low-fat cooking. The council introduced the measures to cut high absence rates, however, its trade union Unison warns of potential fire hazards in rebel smoking.