Highlands County commissioners joined the debate Tuesday night about the rights of smokers and non-smokers, both employees and taxpayers.

The result was a 3-1 vote to ask the county administrator to draw up a method of implementing smoke-free campuses on every county property where there are offices.

County health department cigarettes coordinator Georgeann Singletary imparted the facts that one in six Floridians smoke cigarettes and that a new smoker – usually a teenager – is added to those ranks every three days.

Of the hundreds of chemicals in cigarettes, 70 cause cancer, she said.

Workers who smoke cigarettes take 60 percent more sick days than nonsmokers, and a smoker dies every 6.5 seconds, according to the World Health Organization. More than 18 percent of all deaths are attributable to smoking cigarettes.

Seventy percent of smokers want to quit but can't, Singletary said, and smoke-free campuses would help.

But county resident Barry Foster disagreed that banning smoking cigarettes on county office campuses would help smokers break the habit.

Providing a place to smoke cigarettes away from their workplace doesn't help, Singletary said. Smokers merely have to walk farther, so they tend to extend their breaks.

"I agree," said Sheriff Susan Benton. At the downtown sheriff's headquarters, she allows smoking cigarettes only on the roof and finds that employees stay up there longer.

At a former workplace, The Home Depot, building a gazebo just encouraged smokers to stay longer, Commissioner Greg Harris agreed.

Other audience members were divided: Michael Barry said commissioners should prohibit workers from smoking cigarettes outside county buildings but have no right to tell the general public not to smoke. (Florida law already prohibits smoking cigarettes inside certain buildings and just outside schools.) Barry also said the county should not pay for smoking cigarettes cessation programs and that commissioners should fire employees who don't quit smoking cigarettes if ordered.

Commissioner Jack Richie – an ex-smoker – wanted to know who would enforce the ban.

"That's the beauty of going to a smoke-free campus," said Commissioner Barbara Stewart, whose father died from lung cancer. "You don't have to worry if they're 20 feet from a building or 20 feet and 2 inches."

Contacted on Wednesday, President Norm Stephens of South Florida Community College said enforcement isn't likely to be a problem. SFCC is switching to a smoke-free campus in the fall.

"I haven't seen anyone smoke cigarettes inside a building in years," he said.

Florida Hospital implemented a no-smoking cigarettes campus in August. Employees and hospital clients have been self-enforcing, said Cathy Albritton, director of marketing and public relations.

Although any hospital director or manager can enforce the rule, she hasn't seen anyone smoking cigarettes on the campus or in a car, Albritton said.

Florida Hospital also has a good-neighbor policy forbidding employees from crossing Sun N' Lake Boulevard to smoke.

Commissioners would allow smoking cigarettes on City of Sebring rights-of-way, which include, for instance, the sidewalks in front of the Government Center and the courthouse.

Commissioner Don Elwell, who voted against the smoke-free campus measure, wanted to ban smoking cigarettes one step at a time. Offering a cessation program to employees and moving smoking cigarettes away from doorways will be a start, he said.

Stewart disagreed, saying smoking cigarettes is a dollars-and-cents problem, with taxpayers footing the bill.

"The only way to break that cycle is to quit smoking cigarettes," she said.

June Fisher, the county's Community Services Division director, was tasked with coming back to the commission with a written policy for the board to consider at a future meeting.

Smoke-free state

Florida prohibits smoking cigarettes inside most public places and workplaces. That covers:

Enclosed indoor workplaces, including those of state and local government, where one or more persons work.

Schools: Also, anyone younger than 18 may not smoke cigarettes within 1,000 feet of a public or private elementary, middle or secondary school between 6 a.m. and midnight.

Child-care and health-care facilities

Restaurants: Bar areas are included, but stand-alone bars that make no more than 10 percent of their gross revenue from food sales are exempted.

Penalties: Violators can be punished by a $100 fine for the first offense and $500 for subsequent violations.

Signs designating smoking cigarettes areas must be posted in appropriate areas. The Department of Health or other enforcement authority, upon notification of observed violations, shall issue a notice to comply to the person in charge. If such person fails to comply within 30 days, the department or division shall assess a civil penalty from $250 to $750 for the first violation and from $500 to $2,000 for each subsequent violation. If a person refuses to comply after being assessed the penalty, the appropriate enforcement authority may file a complaint in the specific county circuit court to force compliance.

Tip of the day: these Plugarul details.