Equality for Non-Smokers

Screen Shot 2013-10-01 at 12.48.39 PMWe recently launched an internal anti-smoking initiative.  Our goal is not to lobby MOM’s employees to quit smoking, but to ensure that non-smoking employees are treated fairly.

For years, my office was either at the produce prep sink and/or in the back of the store.  I began to notice that some employees would go outside for a few minutes to smoke.  There was something inherently unfair about this, so I told them they needed to punch out for smoke breaks.

Back then, I was in charge of payroll- and it wasn’t automated.  I had to calculate everyone’s weekly hours by calculator.  Suddenly, calculating payroll was taking much longer, as some employees had 10+ “shifts” per day from all of their smoke breaks.  I felt like I was chasing my tail with this issue.

A recent study done by the British Medical Journal’s Tobacco Control suggests that smokers cost a company $5,816 per year due to costs of on-the-clock smoke breaks, excess healthcare, excess absenteeism, productivity loss due to withdrawal symptoms, and a disruption of focus and project momentum during numerous breaks.  But there’s more, which makes me think that the hidden cost is even higher than $5,816…

I’ve found that morale plummeted in stores where our management smoked. Employees lost respect for supervisors who were smoking instead of working.  They felt that others who smoked with (or without) the managers got special treatment.  The smokers were sometimes out of earshot of our paging system, so they weren’t able to help in a pinch.  This left the non-smokers to fend for themselves no matter how urgently help was needed.

Sometimes smokers would come off break and smell like smoke.  Not a pleasant experience for any customer.

Employees seen smoking by customers was terrible for our image.  Back in 1987 right before I started MOM’s (then called Organic Foods Express), I used to work at Organic Farms Inc.  It was an organic produce distributor open to the public on weekends.  I remember customers whispering the dirty little secret about Organic Farms- the owner smoked cigarettes.  This led them to believe he wasn’t committed to health and organic foods.

People have the right to be wrong, hurt themselves, and make mistakes.  These things are a normal part of the human experience (and a free society).  But, as the old saying goes- “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.”

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33 Responses to Equality for Non-Smokers

  1. John Tomlin says:

    Rewarding good behavior is better than punishing bad behavior. Give non-smokers benefits that smokers don’t get. That will change behavior and help people get healthier.

    • MT says:

      That may work as a bumper sticker type slogan, but it doesn’t really address many of the rationale points made in the primary post (e.g., that repetitive breaking interrupts workflow/productivity, unavailability of employees harms the customer experience).

      • John Tomlin says:

        The primary points are clearly true, no debate necessary on that. I’ve supervised and managed large and small staffs for many years and I’ve found that rewarding positive behavior is the best way for eliminating negative impacts as Scott described. Things go on bumper stickers because they work, not because they’re cutesy.

      • MT says:

        You’re completely wrong about bumper stickers, if, as it seems, by “work” you mean persuade people of anything. All they do is cheer on those of already like persuasion. They rarely offer anything contextual in order to edify, so ultimately they typically function only as a divisive means of advertisement for those with a personality of a sufficiently narcissistic slant to believe that other strangers driving around care about what they think.

    • Annie in Timonium says:

      I stopped shopping at the local natural food store (the only one nearby until Mom’s opened up 🙂 ), because the main cashier always smelled of heavy cigarette smoke. She has been a lifelong smoker and had the classic smoker’s voice, grimace, and nagging cough. I thought it was a contradiction to the store’s philosophy to have someone employed in a front-of-the-house position (or any position for that matter) who is selling “food as medicine” but lives such a toxic lifestyle. It was a turn-off to this consumer. Thank you, Scott, for bringing Mom’s to us!

  2. MT says:

    I’m not sure if this will provide more or less vigorous debate than the ‘barefoot customer conundrum’, but I’m interested to find out…

    • Scott says:

      The “No Shoes…” post was a doozy, similar to the “Man Walks Dog…” post. I never know what issues will spark passion within people. I’m as much an observer on this blog as anyone!

  3. Notworldly says:

    I commend Scott on finally doing something about the extra personal time taken by smokers. People need to learn about third-hand smoke being harmful. That is, breathing the chemicals from the skin and clothing of a smoker. Maybe the smoking employees could be required to wear a protective lab coat after they come in from the smoking break. But very definitely, they need to wash their hands well. Evidence that there is contamination from the residue of the smoke, is found if one searches the Internet for “third-hand smoke.” Karen Becker, DVM, has information, on her “Healthy Pets with Dr. Karen Becker, presented by Mercola.com.” More information is from “Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights.” Scott, PLEASE require smokers to wash their hands well after coming inside; show them printed information of the need.

    • MyLogin says:

      I agree, notw. It’s not just the residue (which is particularly harmful to babies and pets); it’s that smokers’ fingers touch their mouths, so if they’re handling your produce etc., you get smokers’ saliva/germs as a bonus.

  4. Hey Scott. Great stuff! Over here at my music school, weve been trying to encourage everyone to not smoke. Employees and customers. Plus, ive been trying to get an initiative to get my students to eat organic snacks while here. Its good for bodies and good for biz. Plus, I feel better as a human for doing so. Keep up the good work!

  5. Andy DRB says:

    How are you treating non-smokers fairly? Giving them extra breaks? Doubling their pay for the 10-15 minutes their co-workers are on smoke break?

  6. Carol Bass, PhD says:

    A discussion that includes third-hand smoke brings to my mind the issue of cleaning solutions that are pumped into the air for cleaning activities. The MOM’s store in Alexandria is careful about the use of chemicals around food and people but some employees of the new Merrifield store are not friendly when a customer complains about being affected by drift from cleaning activities. Food of course is also contaminated when aerosolized or pumped chemicals are used nearby. This is a real issue but is not well understood by MOM’s employees at the Merrifield location and is a concept that is not well understood by a majority of the general public. The belief that the cleaning solution being aerosolized is “safe” because MOM’s sells it and because it is “all natural” is widely held. Some staff become very irritated if asked for an MSDS and have actually refused to provide information about chemicals to which shoppers are exposed by cleaning activities.

    This issue is handled differently by different grocers. Whole Foods aerosolizes on an almost constant basis. Cleaning activities contaminate food at Whole Foods on an ongoing basis. Employees, including those who do not speak English, appear to have a belief that more is better, more clean and sanitary. The Safeway near my home has never sprayed a cleaner while I have been in the store, yet the store is not dirty or unsanitary. The Giant near my home most always does although now I make a request that no chemicals be used while I am in the store; this allows me to get the things I need as quickly as possible. Shoppers Food Market near my home also does not use chemicals on an ongoing, constant basis.

    I hope MOM’s will seriously consider explaining to their employees the need to use cleaning chemicals in a manner that does not contaminate food, themselves and other people. Chemicals vaporize into the air and remain in the air including the breathing zone of customers and employees alike. These chemicals do not “disappear”. Cleaners also enter the body through the skin and employees who use these chemicals do not protect their hands and therefore sustain exposure through the skin.

    The use of a detergent to clean produce is very different from spraying a glycol ether or other organic solvent into the air.

    • marge says:

      Sensitivity to chemicals is a problem for you and possibly others, but stores should not be forced to change their business practices to meet your needs. A number of the store’s patrons have special needs, me included. It is up to each patron to find out whether a store’s practices are harmful, or beneficial, to them and patronize the store accordingly.

      – A loyal MOM’s patron

      • Tina says:

        Wow, Marge. Kind of harsh. It seems odd to actively choose a store because of an interest in consuming organic products and using products that don’t harm the environment but be okay if that store uses to use harsh chemicals that have the potential to cause harm (esp. if it’s aerosolized). What if Carol isn’t the only one who feels that way? People should stay quiet and suck it up? Managers, owners need to know their customers’ needs and sensitivities or they won’t stay a customer for very long.

      • Carol Bass, PhD says:

        I’m discussing toxicity as it relates to aerosolizing chemicals, similar to the toxicity of airborne second and third-hand smoke. It took more than 50 years before tobacco smoking was recognized to cause cancer. More decades to recognize that second-hand smoke also causes cancer. Applying the Precautionary Principle to the use by spraying or aerosolizing chemicals in public settings is a similar concept to that of exposing the public at large to those who choose to smoke in public. The effects of chemical exposures are not immediately evident to most, the same as exposure to tobacco smoke, but the outcomes for some are ill health.

    • Lori says:

      What aerosolized chemicals are you referring to, exactly? I work at a MOM’s store and I have never seen an aerosol spray there. I’ve also never seen anyone using chemicals on the sales floor. Curious!

  7. David La Voy says:

    Scott says that MOM “recently launched an internal anti-smoking initiative;” but, having read everything that has followed, I am left in the dark about just what is involved in that initiative.

    I should think the first step would be a firm policy of hiring non-smokers. The health of its customers and employees–it has always seemed to me–is the governing principle of MOM, and exposing MOM customers and employees to the direct or lingering effects of tobacco smoke is inconsistent with that principle. As Scott points out, those lingering effects can be both physical and financial. When the cost to MOM of employing a smoker goes up, we customers bear that cost, too.

    Second, MOM should support efforts of current employees to stop smoking by subsidizing their serious efforts to curtail the habit, whether through training, medication or other means. Part of that support should be deadlines for beginning treatment (6 months, say) and for reaching the goal (a year, perhaps). This policy would permit some flexibility in meeting the needs of the individual employee.

    Respect for the rights of the non-smoker has gathered momentum in recent years, but we still bear the main financial cost the smoking habit imposes on society. I applaud the efforts of MOM to reduce that burden.

  8. Scott says:

    David and Andy- we’ve limited breaks to 2 (the same for all employees), i.e. no more excessive break-taking. Smoking must only take place out of view of customers- and not in groups. And smokers are to allow enough time on their unpaid smoke breaks to wash up and take other actions to rid themselves of any lingering odor.

    • Andy DRB says:

      Oh I get it, MOM’s is limiting breaks for ALL employees under the guise of promoting healthy habits (ie not smoking)… How “progressive” of you (or something).

      FYI, Federal law requires that breaks shorter than a “bona-fide 30 minute meal break” be taken ON the clock. That means, smokers and non-smokers alike must be PAID for 5-25 minute coffee/watercooler/bathroom/smoke/yoga breaks. You might want to rethink that policy that ensures MOM’s employees “allow enough time on their unpaid smoke breaks to wash up”.

      According to the Maryland Division of Labor “under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, short breaks of less than 20 minutes (i.e. a coffee break or bathroom break) are considered work time that should be included in the sum of all hours worked in a week and are compensable. For more information on short breaks, see the U.S. Department of Labor’s website.
      If you feel that you have not been compensated for your break and you should be, you may contact the U.S. Department of Labor by calling 1-866-4USWAGE (1-866-487-9243), or visiting the Department’s website.”


  9. lorraine says:

    It is a bad addiction – give them some guidance on how to quite. Start a quit group at the store. But the bottom line is when we have an addiction if it is smoking, drinking, drugs, sugar, food – whatever, we have to first want to quit. No one can make anyone quit. We each need our own motivation to do it.

  10. Leah says:

    When I quit smoking for the second-to-the-last-time, I found myself exhausted by the end of the workday because I didn’t take breaks (desk job). I sat down to work in the morning and didn’t move much until lunchtime, then sat down again and hardly moved at all until quitting time. After several months I felt years older, ached all the time, and found it hard to concentrate on my job one task after another.

    But when I quit for the last time, I went on breaks with my smoker friends but didn’t smoke. I found myself being more productive as a result because I was fresher when I got back to my desk. I would be able to attack each task more alert from the bit of activity and fresh air. Plus having a few minutes to discuss project challenges with co-workers during the breaks provided ideas and insights making me more efficient.

    I would argue that periodic breaks add a degree of physical activity, fresh air and mental respite that allow workers to bring their best effort to their tasks.

    • Mary says:

      This has been proven in empirical scientific data. Thus in accordance with the little understood agenda to dumb down our population, recess has been cancelled in many schools.

  11. Mary says:

    I agree with what has been said but really knowing that we as humans are, and all of our soil and food is contaminated by radioactive fallout especially mushrooms for some reason…via Fukashima and Chemtrails, yes, they contain Strontium, it is proven, and that all food even food marked organic must be radiated unless you can limit purchases to locally grown, delivered by the farmer products, aren’t there other more pressing health issues that warrant inclusion into this discussion?

    Some of the best informed people I know are smokers… maybe because they do talk to each other.and to people others would shun.

    Some of the least informed people I meet are purists who don’t discuss, and debate but just judge. Judge work, and exist in their ego driven belief that they are just “so together” and wouldn’t waste their time speaking to anyone who wasn’t at least as potentially disciplined (read: “closed minded”) as they are.

    At Beautiful Day in Berwyn Heights 30 years ago, when it was a full natural food store/restaurant/clothing/ gift store where I worked, highly informed, forward looking people with valuable insights to share, would not shop or eat or co mingle at Beautiful Day. They felt as though they had to “check their Karma at the door.” (that was the common expression used) because the rather snobby and intolerant Rudolph Steiner, biodynamic, exclusive philosophy that was so prevalent due to the store’s ownership. So these valuable, informed individuals took their business down the street to Tom’s at the Herb Shop and sat on the porch swing and shared with anyone who cared to chit chat. You could smoke on the porch. Share, discuss, learn, debate, speak freely, feel worthy and appreciated without feeling judged..

    Tom’s is still there. Beautiful Day isn’t.

    Let’s not invite that kind of judgmental stigma, or create that kind of atmosphere and reputation. We have lost tolerance and yes it is costly to business owners to hire smokers and yes they must wash their hands, but compared to the fallout you get walking outside from the car to the store, is the residue on clothing of great significance? Well I guess it all ads up… and I do have a heart for the babies, the children, the infirm…and for all. Maybe smokers must personally buy and wear a covering while smoking… store that in a sealed bag,and work extra time for no pay to make up for breaks and drop a fifty cents in a jar for each extra time they have to use water, soap, and paper towels or airdryers or bring their own soap and towels and drop a quarter in the jar for the water. Spritz with their own Zum, breath mints, be pleasant to stand near, speak to and be very clean. Remember the honor system? Usually smokers who would work in a natural food store are very honorable. Judging or ostracizing smoking employees invites that stigma I mentioned before and destroys openness and availability of awareness they might have to share with everyone. I am aghast that no one at either organic food stores in Frederick were in the least aware of the health dangers of smart meters as of July 2013. Huh?! Finally it was published in a free paper that is distributed in both stores but did everyone read it? Do your stores have smart meters? It can be undone. Now… there is a REAL and PRESENT customer and employee health risk. Compassion, tolerance, open mindedness, education, sharing, awareness, less judgement etc,.etc,.etc,. the more the better. Love one another.

  12. Merry says:

    Years ago I read where some companies were rewarding non-smokers at least 3 days extra leave per year; perhaps someone had totaled up the time smokers took for their breaks ?

  13. Jeannie says:

    Wow Merry, I love that idea! Rewarding the good behavior in a very logical way since smokers break time adds up.

  14. Pamela says:

    It’s very hard to be compassionate toward something that may throw my 6 year old asthmatic son into the ER. Besides the fact that I am highly allergic to cigarettes and one whiff can send me into an allergic attack, the fact that he can wind up with enough oral steroids pumped into his system (to pull him out of an asthma attack) to affect him the rest of his life is beyond tolerance.

    With all of the research on 2nd and 3rd hand smoke combined with my efforts to keep him off of a lifetime steroids, I have chosen a natural path including shopping at Mom’s for his herbs, supplements, and organic foods, the last thing I would want to encounter is the smell of cigarette while in store or discover it on my purchases after arriving home.

    So, although I do agree compassion and tolerance are favored, if it means putting my child’s life at risk, you bet those will be put on the back burner. When your addictions affect others, it is time to either seek help or find a job where it is more acceptable and more expected. I honestly had no idea I could encounter a smoking employee at Mom’s.

    • Mary says:

      I empathize with your situation and your concerns about your son. I will pray for you both. I do not work at Mom’s and rarely go out as I am disabled from a work related fall. Everyone who enters and leaves a store should use the available hand cleaner, or carry their own and wipe down the cart handle and child seat. Most shoppers do not. Do you only use your own credit cards, I would strongly advise never touching money. Mail is very contaminated, my postal lady told me that. These are challenging times. Thank you for sharing and reminding me of your very serious situation. I agree with you friend, Blessings, Mary

  15. Kathleen says:

    This is just an odd addition to the discussion – I grow orchids, and endured a nasty period a couple of years ago when an orchid virus entered my collection and killed a number of them. The worst part was I lost more plants because I became afraid to touch and care for the plants because I thought I would spread the disease further. Balance is returned, but I learned through this that a smoker shouldn’t touch orchids without first washing their hands or wearing gloves because if you smoke, you will have tobacco mosaic virus on your hands.

  16. I wouldn’t argue with any of your points- so many employers are so severely vigilant against ‘time theft’ and yet stopping work several times a day in an effort to give oneself lung cancer is perfectly acceptable. Such inconsistency is peculiar, to say the least.

  17. There is also the issue when mangers smoke of non-smoking staff feeling left out of conversations or “meetings” that happen with the smoking group. I personally have found it necessary to go out to the smoking area on schedule with my boss in the past, as a middle manager, just to stay in the loop and be in on key discussions that would happen with other mangers that smoked with the boss.

  18. barry says:

    i used to work as a seasonal employee at the local US Postal Service Sectional Center where smokers were always allowed their smoking breaks. after a few weeks i started to take these breaks too, eventho i’ve never smoked. my supervisor knew i wasn’t a smoker, but also knew it was fair to allow me to take these same breaks!

  19. Corey says:

    Intereesting thoughts

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