Australia - ban on federal health department employees taking smoking breaks..

January 14, 2010 - A ban on federal Health Department employees taking cigarette breaks has been criticised as a heavy-handed measure that may be difficult to legally enforce. From February 1, employees will be banned from smoking during work hours or "when representing the department in any capacity," according to a memo sent to staff at Christmas. The policy directive was issued by the secretary of the Australian Department of Health and Ageing, Jane Halton.

Staff will be permitted to smoke only during meal breaks, but not within 15 metres (49.21 feet) of the workplace, in a move aimed at improving their health and the "professional reputation of the department," the memo said.

Anti-smoking campaigners are hopeful the policy will be the first step towards a nationwide ban on public servants taking cigarette breaks.

The president of the Australian Council of Civil Liberties, Terry O'Gorman, said the directive was "excessive and heavy handed." Nick Duggal, a solicitor specialising in employment laws with TressCox Lawyers, said the policy had legal "question marks."

Ms Halton's memo said the ban was a "lawful and reasonable" direction under the and breaches would be dealt with "in the same manner as any other potential breach of the APS code of conduct." The memo offered support to those wanting to quit smoking.

New South Wales (NSW) public servants were allowed to take "reasonable" cigarette breaks under the award, said the assistant general secretary of the Public Service Association NSW, Steve Turner. "Smoking is an addiction. If you're going to get draconian about it you better start paying for the courses to help remove the addiction," Mr Turner said.

The chief executive officer of Action on Smoking and Health, Anne Jones, said that while unwritten policies banning cigarette breaks were common, this was much more explicit. "It's unusual and it will be interesting to see how many others might follow it," she said.

The deputy national secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union, Nadine Flood, said the policy was "well intentioned" but "ill considered."

Similar bans were instituted last year at the federal Department of Innovation and the ACT Department of Territory and Municipal Services, Ms Flood said. "Rather than focus on the positive support they are offering employees to quit, they have also started by threatening disciplinary action," she said.

Reference: Draconian (exceedingly harsh; very severe) smoke ban questioned, NATASHA WALLACE, Source: The Sydney Morning Herald,, 1/13/2010.