SNOW HILL — The air cleared up in Worcester County a little bit more last week when the County Commission voted to make County Health Department offices “smoke-free” as well as certain park areas and events.
In this context, “smoke-free” actually means that no tobacco products at all will be allowed. County health facilities are already tobacco-free within buildings, explained Health Officer Debbie Goeller. The requested expansion of that policy will extend the rule onto the grounds and parking lots at facilities as well.
“Until recently I had not been necessarily willing to take this step forward because I was concerned that if we made the campus smoke-free it would be a deterrent to people who come to us for treatment with substance abuse or mental health issues. I was afraid it would be a barrier,” Goeller said.
But Goeller’s views have changed to the point where she believes that offering a tobacco-free environment would be a great service to clients, especially those struggling with more serious substance abuse.
Besides the health offices in Snow Hill and Ocean City, the dental clinic in Berlin would also be included on the tobacco-free list. Additionally, both Atlantic General Hospital and the Berlin nursing home have asked to take part in the smoke-free initiative, according to Goeller.
Also joining in the movement is the Worcester County Parks and Recreation Department. The commission was asked to allow the department to go further and adopt an umbrella tobacco policy that would preclude any use of tobacco in a restroom, spectator or concession area or playground in any Worcester County parks facility.
“We don’t want coaches or spectators out smoking amongst the youth,” Recreation and Parks Director Paige Pusey told the commission.
Commissioner Judy Boggs called the policy “a wonderful idea” and said that it gives non-smokers a polite way to ask tobacco users to stop. Goeller agreed and said that the goal is to “empower individuals.”
“Our approach is that we’re looking for voluntary compliance,” she said. “We’re not going to try to make this where we become the smoking police. That is not what we’re after here.”
With clients of the Health Department, Goeller said that the staff will only request that someone cease tobacco use in the area. With department staff, Goeller said that there could be disciplinary actions if the tobacco ban is continually ignored.
The commission voted unanimously in favor of the policy, which will begin to be phased in next month.