The Department of Veterans Affairs new “smoke free” policy for department health care facilities will now apply to employees too, not just patients and visitors.
On Wednesday, VA leadership announced they will extend the planned smoking ban to staff at hospitals and medical centers. While the new non-smoking policy will go into effect for patients and non-staff in October, the employee ban will begin in January 2020.
In a statement, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the move “is consistent with our mission to promote a healthy environment for patients, visitors and employees at our facilities.”
Department officials said the decision was made “based on employee union-negotiated timelines.” But on Wednesday, American Federation of Government Employees filed a grievance to stop the move, saying VA had not worked with union officials on the change.
“The Union has not agreed to these changes to conditions of employment and bargaining over such changes has not been completed,” the grievance states.
In June, VA officials unveiled plans to get rid of all designated smoking areas at VA health care locations, citing “growing evidence that smoking and exposure to secondhand and thirdhand smoke creates significant medical risks.” The department also cited increased fire risks from outdoor smoking stands and smoldering cigarette butts.
The ban includes cigarettes, cigars, pipes and e-cigarettes. Violators could face fines if caught using any of the products on department grounds.
The move follows similar limits on smoking at civic and private facilities throughout the country, but could be more difficult for veterans than the public at large. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released last year found that about three in 10 veterans use tobacco products, a higher rate than most of the non-veteran population.
The Veterans Health Administration has set up several programs to assist patients and employees to quit using tobacco products, including a hotline with counseling help (1-855-QUIT-VET or 1-855-784-8838). More information on those offerings is available on the department’s website.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.