Tobacco use may soon be banned on Beaufort County-owned property, including parks, parking lots and areas around buildings.
County administrator Gary Kubic, who offered the proposal this week, said the goal is to promote healthier lifestyles for county residents and employees.
"I do believe we have an opportunity, through policy, to send a message to our community and also to our employees," he said Tuesday.
There also are practical reasons for the change, he said, as it could cut down on inter-office tensions between employees who smoke and those who don't.
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"This is due to wellness concerns ... and the conflict between employees who smoke and those who do not smoke, in terms of breaks and time off to smoke a cigarette," Kubic said. "I think it creates some uniformity."
Smoking inside most county buildings and county-owned vehicles is already prohibited. County employees must stand at least 25 feet from doors, windows and air vents when smoking outside.
The new rules would essentially override the so-called "smoking corners" on county property, many of which have ash trays and dispensers for cigarette butts, Kubic said. They also would make county policy consistent with those at other local institutions, such as the Beaufort County School District and the area's three hospitals, which are smoke-free.
The concept for a tobacco ban came before the County Council's Community Services Committee on Monday. Members were generally supportive and authorized county staff to create a plan. No formal proposals were introduced at the meeting.
Kubic has asked the county's Alcohol and Drug Division to consider various options based on steps other organizations and municipalities have taken. That process also will determine whether any county facilities, such as the jail, should be exempt from tobacco restrictions and how to classify things like electronic cigarettes.
Kubic has authority to enact rules for county workers, but measures that also would affect residents require the council's approval, said county attorney Josh Gruber.
Council Chairman Paul Sommerville supports banning tobacco use around county facilities. However, he's wary of extending the ban to parks.
"I don't want to be too draconian on this thing on step one," he said.
Kubic indicated he's willing to roll out the tobacco ban in stages. And while the measure is likely to have enforcement provisions, he said the point isn't to punish tobacco users.
"I think we just enforce it by making people more self-conscious ... that they are violating a rule," he said. "We don't want the 'smoking police' going out."
Kubic hopes the new policy will be in place by July 1.
Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.