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Tobacco use, vaping to be prohibted on Richmond County Human Services Complex grounds

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ROCKINGHAM — Smoking and vaping will soon be banned throughout the entirety of the Richmond County Human Services Complex.

The Richmond County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a tobacco-free policy for the property at the request of Health Director Cheryl Speight.

Speight told commissioners that the measure had to be adopted, and put in place by Dec. 1, in order for the Health Department to continue to receive state Medicaid funding.

“We can’t lose our Medicaid funding,” Speight said.

N.C. Medicaid exempts pharmacies and residential care facilities from having to adopt the policy, according to Speight.

Speight read from a prepared statement from N.C. Medicaid, which opened about the health hazards associated with smoking.

“Second-hand smoke is also a documented danger and no one should be exposed to second-hand smoke when they access their medical care or when they’re trying to do their job,” Speight continued. “Research shows that most people who smoke or use tobacco do want to quit, so they’re trying to come up with ways that can reduce some of those triggers for individuals that do want to quit smoking.”

The tobacco ban applies to staff and visitors, and includes the Health Department, Department of Social Services and the Cooperative Extension offices, as well as the parking lot — and the vehicles parked in it.

The definition used by N.C. Medicaid for tobacco products involves anything containing tobacco or nicotine for human consumption — with the exception of FDA-approved gum and patches — includes: cigarettes; cigars; pipe tobacco; electronic cigarettes; smoked or vaped tobacco substitutes; chewing tobacco and snuff; and dissolvable and heated tobacco products.

“We started the process back in the early summer, late spring with our staff, telling them that this policy was going to be coming,” Speight said, adding that the department offers tobacco-cessation counseling, which is also available for any county employees and the public.

The Health Department has had a rule prohibiting smoking 50 feet from the building for a while, according to Speight. Now smokers — including employees — will have to go off-property to light up.

Commissioner Toni Maples asked Speight how adherence to the policy would be monitored.

“What we’ve been guided to do is, if we someone smoking…we are to politely remind them of our policy,” Speight said.

The department will have more authority over staff, and violations could lead to disciplinary action, but Speight said there will not be law enforcement patrolling the parking lot.

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“We are a health department, we’re big in promoting health, and if one of the major causes of death can be alleviated with stopping smoking, I do think we need to promote that,” Speight said. “I do think, as a health-care agency, we do need to be promoting healthier habits.”

Speight said the state will provide signs to be placed outside the building.

“It will probably take people a little while to understand this, to get used to it, Speight said. “Hopefully we’re going to get a lot of people who want to quit, and we can help them through that process.”

Commissioners also approved a resolution supporting Operation Green Light for Veterans, in advance of Veterans Day next month.

County buildings will be illuminated green Nov. 7-13 as part of its support for Operation Green Light and county residents are encouraged to switch an indoor or outdoor light to green, according to Public Works Director Jerry Austin, who was filling in for County Manager Bryan Land.

Austin also previewed the upcoming Veterans Day parade, scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 5, which will include a parachute demonstration by the All Veterans Jump Team, a Kids Zone at the old Food King parking lot and live music by the Safety Committee.

Earlier in the meeting, the board approved a resolution to adopt the Pee Dee Lumber Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan, which is reviewed and adopted every five years, according to Planning Director Tracy Parrish.

Parrish said communities that fall under the plan “become prepositioned and more apt to receive available mitigation funds before and after the next disaster strikes.

Anson, Montgomery and Scotland counties and their municipalities are also included in the plan.

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Managing Editor William R. Toler is an award-winning writer and photographer with experience in print, television and online media.