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Smoking Banned At Health Complex

Lane County government has added another property to the growing list of sites nationwide where smoking cigarettes is banned entirely, indoors and out.

Effective Monday, smoking cigarettes will be prohibited at the county’s sprawling, woodsy Behavioral Health Services complex at 2411 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Under existing laws, smoking cigarettes already was banned in the building and within 25 feet of doors or windows.

That left smokers sitting on curbs or taking refuge under outdoor shelters, said Al Levine, Lane County Health & Human Services Behavioral Health Program manager.

But as part of a broad effort to help clients and employees improve their health, the agency will implement the new anti-smoking cigarettes policy.

At the 13-acre MLK campus, that means no smoking cigarettes anywhere, starting this week.

“There is a covered area where clients congregate and smoke, near the edge of our parking lot, and there is a bicycle shed where some clients and staff have smoked. Or they typically sit on the curbs of our parking lots,” Levine said.

Effective Monday, smokers “will have to walk clear out beyond our parking lot to the edge of our property” and step off the property to smoke cigarettes on the public sidewalk, he said.

The agency provides mental health counseling and drug-related services and treatment for children, families and adults.

Plenty of the agency’s clients smoke, as do a dwindling number of employees, Levine said.

“Traditionally, clients in the mental health system are notorious smokers, and it is often the case that they smoke cigarettes because it helps to alleviate some of the side effects of the psychiatric medications they are taking,” Levine said. “There are lots of our clients who do smoke cigarettes out there.”

Smoking is a big factor contributing to the premature death of people with mental illnesses, Levine said.

The county’s Health and Human Services agency — of which Behavioral Health is a part — recently banned smoking cigarettes on two of its other properties. The agency campus at Seventh Avenue and Charnelton Street has been cigarettes-free since July 2010, and the Community Health Centers of Lane County RiverStone Clinic, at 2073 Olympic St. in Springfield, implemented a cigarettes-free campus policy in May of this year.

The ban will have the biggest effect at the MLK campus, though, because the site has so much outdoor property, and so many people smoke cigarettes outdoors there.

Levine said state health officials are working to develop a policy that probably will require any agency in Oregon that receives state health services funding to have a campuswide smoking cigarettes ban. Many of the services provided by Health and Human Services are funded by the Oregon Health Plan, the state health insurance plan for low-income people.

“This is becoming part of what you have to comply with,” Levine said.

Levine said about 80 to 100 county employees work at the MLK campus.

“I think we’re down to a handful” who smoke, he said. “It’s fewer and fewer every year.”

Some county employees wanted to create a covered spot at the edge of the campus for smokers, but Levine said that ran contrary to the agency’s goal of fostering health.

The agency will continue to offer smoking cigarettes cessation help, products and classes.

The campus has a low profile and is not readily visible from the street, set far back behind trees on the western end of the north side of MLK Boulevard.

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