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Smokers win one at Health Department

December 23, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

Smoking is permitted again at the Washington County Health Department after being banned for nine months.

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The ban was lifted after a worker in the mental health and addictions unit filed a grievance through her labor union.

"It was infringing on our rights," said Kay Bennett, who said she filed the complaint on behalf of all workers, visitors and clients who smoke.

The ban, which had been in effect since March, prohibited all smoking on health department property.

A designated outdoor smoking area was closed and smokers were prohibited from lighting up in their cars while on the department's grounds on Pennsylvania Avenue in Hagerstown.

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The idea was to set a good example for the whole community, said County Health Officer Robert Parker, who heads the department.

"The public health message is important. Smoking is a major cause of preventable deaths...," he said.

Parker said state health officials "strongly recommended" he lift the smoking ban after the grievance was filed

He did, but said he was "disappointed" it had to go.

Bennett is a billing clerk for the department's mental health and addictions division.

"All we wanted was to have our original smoking area," she said.

The grievance was dropped in exchange for a return to the old rules that allow smoking in the designated area, according to Janet Anderson, a spokeswoman with the Maryland Classified Employees Association.

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