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|Not every employee of Lowe's Companies Inc. is happy with the home improvement retailer's stringent new antismoking policy; but the law appears to give employees no recourse to challenge it
Twenty-seven employees of North Carolina Lowe's store -- three of whom are nonsmokers -- expressed opposition to the smoking policy by sending their names to The Observer after an article about the smoking policy appeared earlier this month.
Separately, three employees approached at the University area Lowe's store told The Observer that most employees who are smokers think the policy goes too far.
The policy, which took effect Sept. 1, forbids use of tobacco anywhere on Lowe's property -- including outdoors. All stores and corporate facilities have eliminated outdoor smoking areas. The only permitted time for smoking during the workday is lunch hour, when employees may leave Lowe's property.
The policy is the latest manifestation of a decades-old trend pushing smoking out of workplaces, but policies that ban outdoor smoking have only been gaining popularity about the past five years or so, antismoking activists say. One study estimates that for each employee who quits smoking, an employer can save $300 in annual health insurance costs.
"It's discrimination against us," said Jean Cox, a five-year employee at the Lowe's Huntersville store who has smoked for 40 years. She doesn't intend to quit smoking, and says it's possible to smoke on Lowe's property -- say, inside a car during breaks -- without forcing nonsmokers to breathe secondhand smoke.
"It's getting down to where it's infringing on our rights if we choose to smoke," she said.
Kim Beatty, another employee who smokes, said she wishes Lowe's would go back to its former policy of designated outdoor smoking areas. "We weren't doing anything to anybody," she said.
Earlier, Lowe's executives had described employee reaction to the policy as quiet and accepting. That's still the case among most employees, spokeswoman Chris Ahearn said Monday.
"We knew the decision would not be popular among all 130,000 employees," she said.
But internal surveys show an "overwhelming" majority of employees favor the new policy, Ahearn said, declining to give the specific percentage.
An unscientific online poll by The Observer published Monday found 60 percent of 1,137 respondents believed it's fair for employers to ban smoking on outdoor property, and 40 percent were opposed.
Lowe's employees received six months' notice before the policy took effect. They also received opportunities for counseling to quit smoking. The company said one of its goals was to get employees to quit, resulting in healthier employees and lower insurance costs.
Lowe's employees appear to have no legal recourse to challenge the policy, said Michael Eriksen, head of the Institute for Public Health at Georgia State University and a former tobacco researcher at the Centers for Disease Control. "Smoking is not a protected right," he said.
Research shows that companies who adopt policies like the one at Lowe's do succeed in getting some employees to quit. Workers who don't quit reduce their cigarette consumption significantly, he added.
"Actions like this will tip a small percentage of them to give up the habit, and from a public health standpoint that's good, and from a corporate standpoint that's good," he said.
Added Lowe's spokeswoman Ahearn: "The decision (to adopt the policy) was made based on the safety and health of employees."|
You can reap the benefits of quitting smoking in as little as 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes
Blood pressure and pulse rate improve to healthier levels.
After 8 hours
Carbon monoxide and oxygen levels in blood return to normal.
After 1 day
Your chance of a heart attack decreases.
After 2 days
Nerve endings regenerate; sense of smell and taste are enhanced.
After 2 weeks
Circulation improves and lung function increases.
After 1-9 months
Coughing, sinus congestion, fatigue and shortness of breath decrease.
After 1 year
Chance of heart attack is cut in half.
After 5 years
Stroke risk is reduced to the same levels as a non-smoker.
After 10 years
Risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of a current smoker.
After 15 years
Risk of coronary heart disease and death is about the same as it is for those who have never smoked.