It is a common belief that all unions and union leadership are opposed to tobacco free campus policies. That is not the case. Some local union presidents are very supportive and will readily partner on a tobacco free campus initiative. That fact has played out at hundreds of public colleges, universities, and healthcare institutions across the country.
Increasingly union leaders are recognizing the importance of supporting the health of their membership and better supporting members who want to quit smoking. In New York, about 60% of smoking adults attempt to stop smoking at least once a year. Advocating for smoking members to be able to smoke while at work is also advocating against the larger majority of members who want to breathe clean air and be free of smoking triggers when making or maintaining a quit attempt. Some union leaders have been able to shift the focus from opposing tobacco free campus policies to gaining benefits for members who want to quit such as improved access to nicotine replacement therapy and quit services.
Another consideration for unions is that smoking members drive up the healthcare costs of all members because of the well documented increases in the utilization of medical services among smokers. Supporting the minority of smoking union members at the expense of nonsmoking members may impact morale given the perception and evidence that smokers take more breaks which can add up to an additional month or more of time off for smoking employees. Smoking members may also expose non smoking members to chemicals known to cause cancer, heart disease, and harm those with impaired breathing. With growing awareness of the dangers of secondhand smoke, employees who are exposed to smoke during the work day are speaking out and may initiate grievances. One way to avoid this conflict and the potential liability if an employee or member becomes ill from breathing secondhand smoke is to support or at least not actively oppose a tobacco free campus policy.
For additional information about tobacco free policies and unions please refer to the following resources: