Chewing tobacco on the job now forbidden for Cape Elizabeth town workers

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Chewing tobacco is now outlawed for town employees during work, after complaints it is a “filthy, vile habit.”

Under the ban, town employees can no longer chew tobacco in town-owned vehicles or buildings. Visitors are also barred from chewing in town buildings.

The ban, unanimously approved by the Town Council Monday night, changes the employee personnel code to state that they “shall not utilize tobacco products at any entrance way to any building.”

It also applies to employees in any municipally owned vehicle.

Town Manager Michael McGovern said the concern was raised by employees in several meetings.

“The concern is a number of employees are chewing tobacco in the presence of a vehicle and others, and they find it very disturbing and they would like to ban the use of chewing tobacco,” McGovern told the council. “People are just offended by tobacco products. They think it’s a filthy, vile habit and they resent other employees doing it,” in the workplace.

Although employees who violate the policy could face disciplinary action, McGovern said visitors who are chewing tobacco in the building will only be asked to stop.

“We would tell them we have a policy that they’re not allowed to (chew),” he said. “But there’s no sanction. We’re not going to take action against any visitor other than asking them to refrain.”

Councilor Jessica Sullivan said the use of chewing tobacco during work should be banned because it could be thought of as a health hazard.

“Thinking in medical terms and thinking in terms of (Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards), bodily fluids of various kinds are considered very risky items,” Sullivan said before the vote. “So besides the fact this is socially unpopular, I think that spitting in general is something that is to be avoided and I think this is an extremely reasonable motion.”

Councilor Jamie Wagner questioned if changing the code is something that should involve councilors.

McGovern replied that this “was a significant enough issue that they’ve asked the council three times to adopt (the ban) into the personnel code.”

Complaints about chewing tobacco has mostly come up in the Fire and Public Works departments, he said.

Fire Chief Peter Gleeson said it isn’t a significant problem, but several people in his department have brought the issue to his attention.

“We do not allow the use of cigars in vehicles and town property, so why allow chewing tobacco?” he said Wednesday. “Some find it offensive; people would leave bottles of spit there around the buildings.”

Gleeson said the new code is also consistent with policies promoting healthy living and lifestyles. Bringing the issue to the council was an equity issue, he said, making all departments adhere to the same requirements.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.