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Elkhart, Ind., employer soon to go smoke-free

soon to go smoke-free
KIK Custom Products is preparing to snuff out all tobacco use on its two Elkhart sites, instituting stricter smoking rules than the coming statewide smoking ban requires.

Beginning July 1, the company is barring the use of all tobacco products and tobaccolike products anywhere on its properties. Employees will not be able to smoke or chew tobacco in the break room, in the parking lot or in their cars on company land.

The statewide ban, passed by the Indiana General Assembly during the 2012 session, prohibits smoking inside a business — with exceptions for bars and casinos, among others — and within 8 feet of an entrance. Municipalities and businesses across the state can enact stronger smoke-free policies, but beginning July 1, no tobacco policy can be less restrictive.

KIK, a contract package manufacturer for consumer product companies, began developing its smoking policy long before the General Assembly began work on a statewide ban. It is part of the company’s health and wellness initiative, which includes health screenings, health fairs, online health assessments and reduced rates on gym memberships.

About a year ago, KIK offered smoking cessation classes to employees and formed the tobacco cessation committee to develop the smoke-free policy.

“We want to help our employees take care of themselves,” said Elaine Chaffee, human resources manager. “We want them to work at being healthy overall. Their health is important to us.”

KIK’s move toward restricting smoking is part of a trend among Hoosier businesses that developed while the legislature struggled to pass a comprehensive statewide ban. Mike Ripley, vice president of health-care policy at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said that with the private sector curbing smoking more and more, a de facto statewide ban could have developed, but the process would have taken much longer than it has in the General Assembly.

The driving factor behind businesses’ decisions to limit smoking in the workplace is cost. Employees who smoke contribute to higher life insurance premiums, have increased absenteeism, are at greater risk of getting injured on the job and have more disability claims, according to the Indiana Tobacco Quitline website.

Estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put the economic costs of smoking at $3,391 per smoker annually. This amount includes $1,623 in excess medical expenses and $1,760 in lost productivity.

In addition to concerns about the bottom line, Ripley said businesses have to provide a workplace that meets the regulations set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“We do give employees the right to work in a safe environment, and secondhand smoke is clearly not safe,” he said. “This is about protecting employees.”

The Elkhart operation will be the first U.S. location in the KIK Custom Products’ custom division to go smoke-free. Reaction among the 730 local employees to the company’s coming policy has ranged from supportive to some just wanting to conquer their habit enough that they will be able to work their eight-hour shift without smoking, Chaffee said.

“I think we’re going to lose some employees,” she said. “Are we worried? I don’t think so.”

Vickie Disher, production planner and member of the wellness committee at KIK, has never smoked and acknowledges she has no idea what smokers are going through. Still, she supports the company’s ban and sees many positives, including fewer cigarette butts littering the parking lots, not having to inhale smoke as she passes smokers to get into the building and an improvement in productivity, since no one will stop working to take a smoke break.

As a former smoker, Chaffee sympathizes with the KIK associates who still have the habit, and she knows from personal experience that quitting is difficult. To help the smokers adjust to the coming ban, KIK has held a couple of smoke-free days.

“There’s still going to be people that smoke,” Chaffee said, “but I think when more and more companies and restaurants have decided on their own not to allow smoking, it does tend to isolate smokers, and over time it does encourage people to quit.”

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