Council aims to introduce non-smoking contracts

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MATTHEW BRACE

A city council that is attempting to become "smoke-free" has stepped up its fight by introducing tougher rules for office staff and is considering a total smoking ban.

The ultimate goal of Derby City Council's anti-smoking drive is to make it a disciplinable offence for any of its 1,650 employees to smoke within working hours, whether they work inside council buildings or out of doors.

The chairman of the city council's environment committee, Ashok Kalia, said that the authority will discuss banning all staff from smoking, regardless of the nature of their jobs, later this year. "We have a responsibility to our staff to give them a healthy working environment," said Mr Kalia. "And it is my personal desire to have nobody smoking in the council at all."

The chairman admitted that it would be a difficult rule to police. "Of course it will be hard to see whether an employee working on his own in a park was smoking or not," Mr Kalia said. "But anyone will be able to call and tell us about others smoking."

One step towards this blanket ban was announced yesterday and will be implemented this autumn. All new employees hired after 6 November will be forbidden from using the council offices' smoking rooms and contracts of employment will include warnings threatening disciplinary action - which could lead to dismissal for smokers - for anyone caught flouting the rules.

The existing staff will be allowed to continue smoking in the designated areas during two 10-minute breaks each day. The staff will also be offered counselling and awareness courses to persuade them to give up smoking.

Mr Kalia said that the council had been trying to rid its offices of the smell of tobacco smoke for months. He said this latest rule was prompted by a survey conducted by the council among its employees which found that more than 80 per cent were in favour of a complete ban on smoking in council offices. Mr Kalia added that the ruling, which was passed by the environment committee, was taken in consultation with the local government union, Unison.

In recent years smoking bans have become the norm for many city councils, although most of them are much more lenient with members of staff who smoke, providing them with special areas and not including warnings on contracts for new employees.

The proposals for a complete ban have not found favour with the smokers' rights group, Forest. "To put it mildly, it's a damn cheek," said the group's spokeswoman, Marjorie Nicholson. "Who the hell do these people think they are? If a policy to ban all smoking inside and outside buildings is allowed it would set a precedent saying that employers can stipulate the lifestyle of their employees."

Leading article, page 18

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