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Give me a break: Nonsmokers need work breaks too

Whether you’re a smoker or a nonsmoker, you are likely familiar with the term “smoke break.” As a nonsmoker, my familiarity stems from the admiration that develops as I watch my co-workers indulge in 10 minutes or so of uninterrupted, paid, break time.

Ten minutes to stand or sit outside where they can smoke, check their phone and re-group. Let’s imagine for a minute a nonsmoker, like myself, walks outside during a shift, sits down and checks his or her text messages. Such a scenario would most likely be followed by a soliloquy of screaming from a manager. But wait – my co-worker just did the exact same thing. Oh, I see, they have an excuse because they’re smoking?

The American Lung Association launched its Smokefree Air Challenge in Ohio in 2006. Smokefree Air refers to the prohibition of smoking in public places including government and private workplaces, bars and schools in an attempt to reduce people’s exposure to secondhand smoke in public venues. Ohio has helped the nonsmokers’ health in the workplace, but can we get a break in the workplace? 

Unfortunately, federal regulation does not mandate short break periods, but does not prohibit them either. In other words, short break periods – generally lasting five to 20 minutes – are granted to employees at the employers’ discretion. That being said, you might ask, “Then why don’t you ask for a break?” I have worked jobs ranging from selling pet supplies to lifeguarding, and without fail, if I sit down or step into the back room for a drink, a manager will soon find me and throw me, figuratively speaking, back onto the sales floor, poolside or reception area.

I have nothing against smokers and simply seek an even playing field. As my experience shows, such parallelism in regards to smoke breaks is rarely granted by the employer. So here I am, Ohio, asking you to grab the bull by the horns and lay down the law, or at least refine this one. With the regulation as is, I feel discriminated against in the workplace as a nonsmoker. Similarly, what would happen if an employer granted meal breaks to men but not women? The state would rectify the situation in the blink of an eye and grant such breaks to both genders equally. Therefore, I simply ask where my nonsmoking break is.

If I cannot have a nonsmoking break in the workplace, then please discontinue the permission of short breaks for smokers.

According to the American Lung Association, smoking costs Ohio’s economy $9.2 billion per year. Maybe, Ohio, if you prohibit smoke breaks in the workplace, that would motivate smokers to quit smoking and lower the economic burden. You have improved the health of your nonsmoking Ohioans, so either show the same kindness to the smoking Ohioans or give me a break.


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