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Sep 20, 2012 10:39 AM by Samantha Ptashkin

Pima County smokers in a huff over their right to light up

TUCSON- Outside the Pima County administration building downtown it doesn't take long to spot a smoker.

"I started smoking when I was about 11 or 12," says Tucsonan James Peterson, as he sat outside on a bench.

And Peterson doesn't want to quit. "I would like to have the freedom to at least enjoy a cigarette."

But soon Pima County might take that freedom away. The Board of Supervisors is looking at a proposal to ban smoking outside all Pima County buildings. "It has been a policy that has been evolving over time. We went smoke free in our buildings several years ago," Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry says.

The ban would apply to all visitors and county employees. If they want to smoke they would have to do it on a public right of way. "It's a method of trying to improve the health of the workforce, make employees more productive and at the same time we don't want to expose the public to risks associated with tobacco use," Huckelberry says.

But Huckelberry says there is one group that might be off the hook. Jurors don't have a choice as to whether or not they're on Pima County property. "We're talking to a presiding judge now about whether or not that policy should extend to jurors," Huckelberry says.

He says it would be an easy exception to make since jurors are easily identified through the badges they have to wear.

But Peterson doesn't buy it. He says everyone should have a right to smoke outside. "There's plenty of fresh air," Peterson says. "You're not intimidating anyone else with smoke, so it shouldn't be offensive to anyone."

The ban could take effect as early as next year.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors is also considering giving county employees more random drug tests. The county gives its employees a discount on health insurance premiums if they're tobacco-free. Right now they take employees' word for it, but as the discounts increase, Huckelberry says it's a policy worth considering.

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