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Countys Solid Waste Division goes smoke-free
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Hall County's landfill and compactor sites will go smoke-free Monday, banning tobacco use for all staff, employees, visitors and customers.

Because the Solid Waste Division uses inmates for a labor force, the idea is to extend an initiative started at the county's Correctional Institution in September for smokers to extinguish their cigarettes once and for all.

"With the fact that we do utilize inmate labor, we decided to move forward and support what our CI did," said Cary Lawler, the county's solid waste manager. "There are also obvious hazards at compactor sites when you have potential fire and the material we take in on a daily basis."

Under a statewide initiative started in January, Georgia Department of Corrections Commissioner Brian Owens ordered all prisons to be tobacco-free by the end of the year.

It's a policy change that has been tried in the past and comes after most of Georgia's county jails have been smoke-free for years.

In Hall County, jail inmates at the 1,000-bed lockup on Barber Road aren't allowed to smoke, and those at the 240-bed Correctional Institution were allowed smoke breaks outside in the morning, before dinner and during work details until Sept. 1.

The state prison system offered a smoking cessation program from the American Lung Association and smoking lozenges to inmates. Warden Avery Niles said about 75 percent of smokers took part in the program.

"We taught various classes for inmates, staff members and our staff's family members. It was a great success, and the county has ongoing classes for employees," he said. "We had a high percentage of participation, and I would assume the others had the ambition to quit on their own."

The change was well-received, and Niles has seen a smooth transition.

"The cessation program and the education in the classes aided in the process," he said. "When we receive inmates from state institutions or the Hall County Jail that have already implemented smoke-free programs, it's an easy transition to this facility. I'm glad the county division is implementing it, and I think it'll help the program to remain successful."

All solid waste facilities posted tobacco free signs Tuesday to start notifying employees, visitors and customers about the change.

"When it comes to the nature of the business we do, most of the time we're dealing with rules and regulations above the norm anyway," Lawler said.

"We've had some participation in the cessation program, including one employee. The signs will be visible to everyone who utilizes our sites."

According to the Department of Corrections' annual report, in 2009 the state was projected to spend $226 million on prison health care, including $72 million in direct care. That was up from $133 million in 2004, when the state had approximately 12,000 fewer prison inmates.

The National Commission on Correctional Health Care estimated in a 2004 study that 70 percent of incarcerated people are smokers, compared with the national rate of 23 percent of adults in the U.S.

"Use of tobacco is directly linked to a wide variety of major health problems which significantly contribute to the rising cost of health care," said Sharmelle Brooks, spokeswoman for the state's Department of Corrections. "GDC's mission of protecting public safety includes actions to support a healthy lifestyle among inmates and minimizing growth in health care costs, which are paid for by the citizens of Georgia."

Since January, about five facilities per month have gone smoke-free, Brooks said. All county facilities must be tobacco free by December.

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