New Castle County government has announced that starting Jan. 3, 2012, smoking cigarettes will be prohibited throughout the campuses of the three office complexes where most of the county’s 1,400 employees work.

The policy will apply to employees and visitors at the Government Center/James H. Gilliam Building complex on Reads Way in Corporate Commons, the William J. Conner Building on Old Churchmans Road, and the Paul J. Sweeney Public Safety Building on U.S. 13, all in New Castle.

Smoking inside county facilities has been prohibited since 1994. Since then the county has permitted employees to smoke cigarettes in designated outdoor areas. The new policy will extend the ban on smoking cigarettes to all outdoor areas on the grounds of the three affected office complexes. The County announced the new policy to employees Thursday, the 34th anniversary of the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, which spotlights the dangers of cigarettes use and the challenges of quitting.

The county will offer stop-smoking cigarettes programs for employees in conjunction with the new smoke-free policy, said County Executive Paul Clark. “While I understand that this policy may be difficult for some to adjust to, we are putting it into effect for the overall health and well-being of our employees and our visitors. We will be ready to help those who seek assistance in adapting to the policy.”

Since November 2002, Delaware has banned smoking cigarettes statewide in all enclosed workplaces, both public and private, with a handful of exemptions including private homes, rented social halls, designated smoking cigarettes rooms in hotels/motels and at fundraising activities held by certain organizations on their property. Additionally, local governments and private industry have the authority to further regulate smoking cigarettes, including banning smoking cigarettes in outdoor areas under their control. Local examples include the hospital campuses operated by Christiana Care and Delaware Health and Social Services and the Bethany Beach boardwalk and beach, all of which are smoke-free.

A July 2011 Gallup poll showed that about 22 percent of Americans 18 and older are regular smokers. This is down from 23 percent in 1999 and 28 percent in 1988. The same poll identified 24 percent of Americans as former smokers. About 23 percent of American men and 19 percent of women smoke. Despite steady reductions, more than 45 million Americans still smoke. In the July survey, 30 percent of smokers said they smoke cigarettes a pack or more each day. As recently as 1997, over half smoked a pack or more a day.

Tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. Life expectancy for regular smokers is estimated to be from 10 to 18 years shorter than for non-smokers. Smoking and exposure to cigarettes store smoke cigarettes is blamed for 443,000 premature deaths annually in the United States. That’s more than 1,200 deaths a day.

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