Big Y’s Smoke Out

Discussion
Jul 03, 2007

By Tom Ryan

Big Y set July 1 as the first day its workers will no longer be allowed to smoke on company property on company time.

According to Big Y’s new policy, employees can no longer smoke on store premises during paid breaks, and if they wish to enjoy a smoke during unpaid breaks, they have to go at least 50 yards from the building.

The smoking ban does not apply to customers. Instead, it’s part of an ongoing effort to improve its workers’ health while holding down health care costs.

“We just want healthy people,” Big Y health & wellness administrator Christine Jette told Progressive Grocer.

The smoke-free workplace was heralded on June 29 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at its 55 stores in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Big Y has over 9,200 employees. Full-time employees receive health coverage at no cost, while part-timers are eligible but have to pay some expenses. Health care costs range from $4,700 to $4,800 per employee.

The aging population and increasing medical expenses are working against corporate attempts to keep health care costs down, said Peter Tavolacci, of Mercer Human Resource Consulting’s health and benefits division, which advises Big Y on the issue. But changing behavior can have a significant impact. “It really is behavior, not genetics,” Tavolacci told the Connecticut Post.

The smoke-free workplace initiative is just a part of Big Y’s health-and-wellness program, which includes a wellness team that travels by van to different locations all year long offering free health screenings to employees.

“It’s all connected,” noted Ms. Jette of Big Y’s various employee health-related measures.

To support its non-smoking policy, Big Y is offering reimbursements for nicotine patches and holding smoking cessation classes at each store.

Despite the workers’ ban, the stores as expected to continue to sell cigarettes.

“It is a very fine line and we have discussed it, [but] there’s really no easy way around that one,” said Ms. Jette.

Discussion Questions: What do you think of Big Y’s smoking ban? Is this a proactive or intrusive way to deal with rising health care costs?

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17 Comments on "Big Y’s Smoke Out"


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Shaun Bossons
Guest
Shaun Bossons
14 years 10 months ago

This is a topic that seems to be at the top of most discussion forums right now. I wonder if it’s coincidental that Big Y chose July 1st, the same day as the UK announced a no smoking policy for any public enclosed space. As with the UK, we are now seeing the aftermath of the decision, smokers feeling it’s against their human rights whereas the non-smokers are rejoicing in a healthier environment.

On top of this it’s never a good company image, when customers approach the store to be “greeted” with a number of employees smoking outside of the building. For me (as a non-smoker and a customer), I think it’s good news, as long as it’s being done as a means to ensure the health of the employees and improve company image, however that may be me being extremely naive!

I’m sure, as with the UK, this is a debate that will keep going for some time….

leeann Montaldo
Guest
leeann Montaldo
14 years 10 months ago

I think this is just another example of people becoming more intolerant of things they don’t like. Last I checked, smoking is not illegal. To discriminate against those who choose to smoke should be illegal.

Companies should provide a clean, comfortable area for employees who choose to smoke. Smoking “areas” without proper ashtrays are asking for a mess so don’t blame the smokers. Imagine a lunch room without trash cans….

Lastly, smoking is not illegal and companies need to mind their own business when it comes to what legal things employees choose to do to for pleasure.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

Just looking at the comments says that Big Y is getting great PR out of this move. Customers who do not smoke say great move. Those who smoke can no longer find an alternative to shop that allows smoking by employees. So that is one positive. The second positive is that of those employees who smoke; most of them would like to either break the habit or cut back on the amount they smoke, if for nothing else than to save money. By making it more difficult for them to smoke, it will help them to either smoke less or break the habit.

Final point: Even though it is a tight labor market, being a non smoking environment does not seem to be hurting the ability to attract good employees.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

Those who know little/nothing about Big Y raise their hands (I looked it up: it’s a MA based grocer).

The quick answer is that, of course companies have an absolute (within reason) right to regulate what’s done on company time and property. The more complex question/answer “is it a good idea?” That probably depends on the company and the type of people it employs. For many of those who voted “no” on this–and I don’t think they are all smokers–what is disturbing is the frequent dissonance that appears: policies are implemented for what are ostensibly cost saving reasons, but are then lauded for all of their (frequently) officious side “benefits” of how they affect off-work behavior.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
14 years 10 months ago

This is a carrot-and-stick situation. Banning on-premises employee smoking is a stick, but a very short one. Employee smoking will continue at home and elsewhere. The “carrot” solution is to establish a health baseline for every employee receiving medical benefits, and reward them in some way for improving their health profile determined by subsequent baseline tests. This solution would help Big Y employees address health challenges beyond smoking, including obesity, heart health, and addictions. Otherwise, Big Y should be prepared eventually to monitor on-premises employee consumption of junk food.

David Livingston
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

leeannmonty indicates that because smoking is legal it should be tolerated. I disagree. Having a no smoking policy just benefits everyone. Customers are not turned off by the smell of tobacco smoke on employees. Employees are not sneaking out every 30 minutes for a smoke break. It will be easier to attract quality employees knowing they will not have to work with smokers. Customers will have more confidence in the store knowing that smokers are not handling their food.

Art Williams
Guest
Art Williams
14 years 10 months ago

I applaud Big Y for having the courage to take this step and hope that it works out well for them. The disgruntled workers hopefully will be outnumbered by the other employees and their customers. Even the smokers in their midst should respect that Big Y is doing something that will improve their health if it causes them to smoke less or quit. And save them some money too.

william White
Guest
william White
14 years 10 months ago

Our Company, Orscheln farm and Home, a chain of 142 farm and home stores in 9 Midwestern states, also adopted a “no smoking campus” policy as of July 1st, which covers all of our stores as well as our Corporate Office. We took it one step further, however, in that we have decided to pay 100% of the cost of the no-smoking medication Chantix for all employees and their spouses, the cost of which is being funded outside our health care plan. We have had a tremendous response, and are helping many of our employees to kick this horrible habit. We have had almost zero negative responses, and, although we are fronting a huge cost in the form of the medication on behalf our employees, we believe it is the right thing to do, not only for them and their families’ future, but also for the long-term costs of our health care plan. I applaud Big Y for taking a similar initiative!

J. Peter Deeb
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

I also think Big Y is doing the correct thing in this situation. One area that they may (and I emphasize may) have to be aware of is job performance and attitude. If 20% of their employees smoke and half of them are unhappy and feel that they are being singled out for being smokers, their performance may suffer. Even more important is that their attitude toward their employer can be detected by shoppers and I am sure Big Y does not want that to happen.

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

As a non-smoker I applaud the move to make any workplace cleaner, safer and healthier. However, companies have to think about the individual cost of any universal policies as well. What about the key executive or manager who just refuses to comply, no matter how much sound reasoning there is? Is the company strong enough to let that employee find a new place of employment? In my company, we went to a completely smoke-free campus about 6 months ago. Now we are finding die-hard smokers going next door TO THE GAS STATION to have a quick one! Which would be a safer alternative for us and our staff?

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

Many localities have adopted laws similar to Big Y’s smoking rules, including outdoor radius restrictions. Smoking’s on the decline, and the proliferation of smoker restrictions helps that decline. Their biggest declines stem from tax increases, though, so price seems to be the #1 factor. Tobacco companies agreed to pay huge penalties to the states to support health care. If supermarkets, convenience stores, mass merchants, discount stores, bars, and restaurants that sell cigarettes had to pay similar penalties, how many would continue to do so? And would the extra costs of the penalties cause a sharper sales decline for tobacco products?

David Livingston
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

I don’t care about the health care costs. What is more important is the image it portrays. Customers don’t like seeing employees standing around the smoke barrel at the side of the store. Or puffing away at a picnic table, flicking their butts on the ground. It sends the wrong message and shows a lack of class allowing employees to smoke on company premises.

Big Y is doing the right thing. I would take the rule even further and not allow employees on the job who smell like an ashtray. I was shopping at the supermarket last night and my teenage bagger smelled of a strong odor of cigarettes and had a bad smoker’s cough. That’s not good for business.

Phillip T. Straniero
Guest
Phillip T. Straniero
14 years 10 months ago

I agree with David–I do not like to walk into a business where the employees are outside smoking. One of the largest hospitals in our area makes their employees go outside to smoke…it’s really encouraging to see people in their surgical scrubs outside smoking!!!

If Big Y is going to save money on health care costs, I’d be willing to bet they will lose more money on employee productivity as break times become longer and morale slackens!

John Lansdale
Guest
John Lansdale
14 years 10 months ago

When I voted, it was 65% for limiting smoking, 28% against, a ratio of about 2 to 1. In opinions, though it was 14 against, 1 for. Smokers know it’s wrong but, instead of arguing, they just slip away and have their little fixes. And the retailer continues to sell tobacco. If we were discussing profits, the tally would be reversed.

Susan Langley
Guest
Susan Langley
14 years 10 months ago

Fact: Long term smoking leads to cancer. Second hand smoke has been deemed just as bad. Employees who choose to continue their smoking habit have the choice to adhere to an employers smoking policy or smoking restrictions, or seek alternate employment. As a consumer, I agree that entering a retail store or mall with dozens of smokers huddled outside the main entrance is a huge turn-off and reflects poorly on the store/brand image. Responsible retailers should not only be proactive in moving their smokers out of public areas as Big Y did, but also provide health benefits or programs that assist or even reward an employee who can successfully stop smoking. Long term, the investment in an employee who is willing to stop smoking will pay off by increased productivity (3-4 more hours a week spent working versus smoke breaks) as well as fewer sick days.

John Lingnofski
Guest
John Lingnofski
14 years 10 months ago

It’s been well established that smoking is harmful to your health. Even smokers agree. But am I the only one that is becoming tired of attempts to change my behavior through legislation? As a former health care professional (and non-smoker), I know that education and motivation are key to long term behavior changes. Blitz people with the facts about smoking. Provide financial incentives for stopping. Charge smokers more for health insurance. But let them make up their own minds, and then celebrate with them when they succeed at making the necessary changes.

“A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Treat people like responsible adults and 99 percent of them will not disappoint you. Treat people like children and 99 percent of them will respond in kind.

bob centurian
Guest
bob centurian
14 years 9 months ago

The subject is one to be debated for a long time.

Smoking has been proven to be unhealthy, but so is excessive eating and alcohol consumption, along with many other bad habits. I don’t like meeting skateboarders on the sidewalks of the stores either…I am elderly, and they scare me..

So, if the company is after reduced health claims because a smoker may quit smoking (or his/her job), I disagree…a smoker will leave the campus at lunch, authorized breaks, and perhaps smoke more to meet the nicotine demand of their system. The policy change sends a good message to the public about the healthy environment of the company, but does little to address the personal habits of the employee. The majority of long term smokers will continue to light up.

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