Chatt State's July 1 smoking ban to help prepare students for increasingly smokefree work world
Poll of area businesses
What is your policy on smoking and/or tobacco use?
› No smoking at all. We don’t hire workers who smoke: 3
› Not allowed anywhere on our property or in any work situation: 3
› Smokers pay premium for health insurance: 6
› Smokers may smoke only in designated areas outside of the building or office: 9
› Smokers can smoke at designated places within the building and outside: 0
› Smokers can smoke anywhere on employee breaks: 0
— Recent poll by the Society of Human Resources Management Chattanooga of 16 area businesses
Smoking will be banned on July 1 at Chattanooga State Community College.
One of the main reasons for the college's ban on smoking, chewing tobacco and electronic cigarettes — rolled out with fanfare on a 100-day countdown timer that dominates the college's home page online — is that school officials say they want to prepare students for a working world that, more and more, shuns smoking.
"It will help them get the jobs that they're working towards," said Chattanooga State spokeswoman Nancy Patterson. "To me, it was a surprise how many local jobs require nonsmokers. I think all the hospitals in town require tobacco-free hiring."
Employers in Chattanooga and elsewhere discourage smoking through bans on smoking at work, charging smokers more for health insurance, even refusing to hire people who can't pass a urine test that indicates tobacco use.
And outside of the workplace, it's getting harder for smokers here to find a place to puff.
Hamilton County mayors banded together last year to launch the Mayors' Smoke Free Community initiative that sought the blessing of the area's legislative delegation to give local municipalities the authority to ban smoking in public parks and open spaces.
The campaign targets not only second-hand smoke, but "third-hand smoke," the residue left behind on smokers' clothes, furniture — even pets.
Businesses don't have to hire smokers
Of course, smoking tobacco is still legal. And Tennessee is one of about 30 states with so-called smoker protection laws on the books. Tennessee's law, which was passed in 1990, says that an employee can't be fired for "the use of an agricultural product not regulated by the Alcoholic Beverage Commission that is not prohibited by law" — a roundabout definition of tobacco.
While employers in Tennessee can't fire smokers, they can screen out employees who smoke during the hiring process, said Jennifer Ellis, spokeswoman for the Society of Human Resources Management Chattanooga.
"You can't take employment action, so you can't fire (smokers) or not promote them," Ellis said. "But you do have the opportunity to choose not to hire smokers."
Ellis surveyed major Chattanooga employers this spring and found that none of the 16 respondents allowed smoking on the premises. But less than 19 percent of employers indicated that they wouldn't hire smokers.
"I feel like the tobacco-free [business] campuses are pretty popular, pretty widely accepted," Ellis said. "I think the tobacco-free hiring practice is still not the norm — but I do think it's growing. It's becoming more common, specifically in healthcare, typically in hospital settings where there is that direct patient contact. And I think there is some concern about third-hand smoke."
Roughly a quarter of all Hamilton County adults smoke, according to Janie Burley, the Tobacco Settlement Fund coordinator with the county health department.
Chatt State ban gets 'positive feedback'
Feedback from students at Chattanooga State shows that they like the idea of a campus smoking ban, Patterson said.
"It's generally been positive, and I think that the majority of our campus doesn't smoke," she said, adding, "It's going to be difficult for some."
The college is in the process of converting about a half a dozen former "smoking huts" into solar-powered charging stations for laptop computers and smartphones.
Chattanooga State will direct students who smoke to services that can help them quit, Patterson said, including smoke-free.gov and 1-800-quit-now.
"Our dean of students will have Nicorette gum available," she said.
Desiree Decker, a member of the Student Government Association, led the campaign for the ban, and the community college's faculty senate voted unanimously in favor of a smoke-free campus.
Chattanooga State isn't the only community college in Tennessee to ban tobacco use.
Cleveland State University in Cleveland, Tenn., went tobacco-free at the start of the 2013 fall semester. The community colleges are part of the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) system that includes six universities, 13 two-year colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology.
"There's definitely been a movement to smoke-free campuses over the last several years," TBR spokeswoman Virginia Moreland said.
UT says it can't go smoke-free
However, the University of Tennessee (UT) system, which is separate and has its own board of regents, limits smoking on campuses — but hasn't banned it outright, because UT officials don't think they can ban smoking under Tennessee law.
"UT's position is that state law limits our ability to have completely 'smoke-free' campuses," Ellie Amador said.
That sets the University of Tennessee apart from other schools in the Southeastern Conference (SEC); eight out of 14 SEC schools have campus smoking bans.
Locally, students at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga have shown interest in a campus-wide smoking ban, UTC spokesman Chuck Cantrell said.
"There has been a lot of interest expressed by our students," he said.
(Staff writer Steve Johnson contributed to this report.)