You can’t even smell of tobacco at this worksite

‘Draconian’ policy protects sensitive employees

The sign above the visitors’ entrance at Kimball Physics reads as follows: "Please do not enter if you have used a tobacco product within the past two hours or are otherwise tobacco contaminated."

The two-year-old anti-tobacco policy at the Wilton, NH-based designer and manufacturer of electron and ion sources and optics is "Draconian," admits president Chuck Crawford, PhD. But the policy, which was designed and implemented by an employee committee on substance abuse, also is critically important to the health of employees.

"We see it as a moral responsibility," Crawford says. "First, we’re doing what’s right for our employees. Second, you end up with healthier employees, so everybody wins, and productivity is much higher by not having so much tobacco around."

The key components of the tobacco exclusion policy are:

• No tobacco use is permitted inside any Kimball buildings.

• No tobacco use is permitted outside buildings on Kimball property.

• No tobacco-contaminated person is permitted inside any Kimball building, structure, or motor vehicle.

The rules apply equally to co-workers, managers, customers, vendors, and visitors.

The policy was employee-driven, asserts Larry T. Warren, assembly/prototype technician, who is a member of the substance abuse committee. "Before the state passed a smokers’ rights act in 1993, we had a policy of not hiring smokers at all, and you couldn’t smoke on or off the job," he recalls. "When [the law] passed, which said employers didn’t have the right to tell people they couldn’t smoke on their own time, we said ‘fine,’ but we felt we still had the right to restrict tobacco products being brought into the building." (See story on cash incentives to stop smoking, above.)

The committee was concerned because several people at Kimball are hypersensitive to tobacco residue. One such employee is Arleen MacCallum, who has asthma. "Sometimes I get a headache or a running nose just from smelling tobacco," she says.

So the committee came up with "a workable plan," says Warren, which relies on the "smell" test. "Basically, if you reek of cigarettes, you can’t come in the building," he acknowledges.

The committee’s concern was the well-being of the people in the company, says Warren. "We’re not just talking about second-hand smoke," he notes. "We’re also concerned about residue on people’s clothes and hair. The mere smell makes people sick."

While there were some smokers at Kimball, not a single employee has complained about the policy, says Warren.

While there have been no formal legal challenges to the Kimball policy, "The New Hampshire branch of the American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU] says it violates the [smokers’ rights] law because we’re trying to control people when they’re not at work," says Warren.

For his part, Warren disagrees strongly with the ACLU. "There’s a lot of talk about rights, but what we seem to have forgotten is, along with rights come serious responsibilities — one of which is not to hurt someone else," he notes. "We make laws about what you can and can’t do when you drink, like driving a car. Your rights end when they hinder somebody else’s rights or their health. And tobacco certainly affects the health of some employees here."

Crawford goes further than that. "We’re actually protecting employees’ rights more," he asserts. "State and Federal law require us to protect employees from toxic substances, and tobacco residuals are known toxic substances. Tobacco has 40 known carcinogens, some of which are in high enough concentration to be cancer-causing among people who are exposed. In addition, cigarettes contain at least hundreds of other chemicals that are toxic."

Were health care costs an issue for Crawford? "Kimball Physics certainly didn’t get into this because of economics — in essence it has cost us money — but there’s an awful lot of money to be saved by having a proactive stance with regard to tobacco," he says. (See the chart on p. 44, outlining the economic impact of employees who smoke.)

But Crawford insists the only "return" he’s looking for is satisfied employees.

[Editor’s note: Two recent scientific studies shed additional light on behavioral problems induced by nicotine and what it takes to kick the habit. Be sure to read our reports in this month’s Health & Well-Being insert.

For more information on Kimball’s smoking policy, contact: C.K. Crawford, president, Kimball Physics, 311 Kimball Hill Road, Wilton, NH 03086-9742. Telephone: (603) 878-1616. Fax: (603) 878-3700. E-Mail:]