Smoke-free Policy: How to do it

Key Steps for a Successful Tobacco-free Policy

Forming an advisory committee to develop and implement a worksite tobacco policy

Depending on your workplace culture, it may be important that employees feel part of the policy development and implementation. Form an advisory team to develop and implement the worksite tobacco-free policy. If your organization has an existing wellness committee, that group is most appropriate. Keep the committee to about eight-to-ten people. The team should represent the diversity of the workplace, including managers, staff, nonsmokers, smokers and ex-smokers. Schedule the team to meet regularly on paid work time.

Assess the Current Situation

The first step is to assess the current situation. Review your company's current policies, practices, and employee attitudes in regard to smoking or tobacco use policies. Ask the following questions:

  1. What is your current tobacco use policy?
  2. Why are you developing or enhancing your tobacco-use policy?
  3. Where do you sell tobacco products on your worksite campus?
  4. Where do people smoke now?
  5. Who in your organization's top management supports the implementation of a stronger tobacco-use policy?
  6. What are your organization's expectations of a tobacco-free worksite? How will you measure success?
  7. Approximately what percentage of your employees uses tobacco?
  8. What types of tobacco products (cigarettes, cigars, spit tobacco, cigars, pipes, etc.) will be covered by the policy?
  9. What tobacco cessation programs and resources (including quit smoking aids: nicotine patch, nicotine gum, etc.) can your organization provide to employees? Do you currently offer smoking cessation programs, resources and quit smoking aids? Do you promote QuitlineNC? Do you currently have a tobacco quit medication benefit—either over the counter nicotine replacement therapy or prescription—through your health plan?
  10. How does your organization plan to enforce the policy?

If needed, divide the committee into smaller working groups such as:

  • Policy: A small group could develop the policy, including clearly outlining implementation.
  • Communication: A small group could help develop and implement a communication plan to make employees and management aware of the new policy and of stop-smoking resources.
  • Tobacco cessation: A small group could review available tobacco use cessation resources and recommend any temporary or permanent additions to cessation resources if that is an option.

Design a Timeline

Employers typically allow nine-to-twelve months to plan the policy and to prepare employees for the change.

Sample Timeline for Tobacco-Free Policy Adoption

Months 1-2

Form a diverse committee of managers, staff, nonsmokers, smokers and ex-smokers.

Months 3-4

Create a draft policy and share with staff for input and ease of understanding. See Model Policy below. Consult with local health department and state staff for technical assistance in writing the policy and planning for implementation.

Months 5-6

Solicit managerial and supervisory support. Communicate their role in anticipated success of policy.

Announce new policy through the Human Resources or personnel staff this conveys upper management support and commitment. Communicate effective date.

Educate employees on benefits of a tobacco-free workplace, and the costs of tobacco use through multiple methods (emails, newsletters, posters in break room, seminars, lunch-and-learns sessions). Introduce policy at public meeting.

Months 7-12

Offer cessation programs and benefits to employees. Distribute incentives, support items, survival kits, etc.

Re-release effective date. Promote effective dates to visitors, clients, and people other than staff. Use posters, banners, e-mails, websites, etc). If appropriate, hold a kick-off event.

Post no tobacco use signs at all entrances so that the policy is clear to visitors as well as employees.

Follow up with committee over next six months at least – assess compliance, understanding, and other feedback.

Drafting the Policy

Create a workplace tobacco use policy that fits your organization. If possible, include restrictions on all tobacco use outdoors on your workplace property. The more extensive the restrictions on tobacco use, the more support your workplace will provide to employees who are interested in quitting.

Model Tobacco-Free Policy (Download as a word document)

Based on the science-based health hazards of tobacco use and secondhand smoke, as of ______________________, it shall be our policy to provide a tobacco-free environment for the health of all employees and visitors. This policy covers the use of any tobacco product and applies to both employees and non-employee visitors of our company.


  1. Tobacco use is prohibited within all owned, leased or occupied company buildings. This policy applies to all employees, contractors and visitors.
  2. Tobacco use is prohibited in any company vehicle at any time.
  3. Tobacco use is prohibited on all property owned, leased or occupied by the company. (Option 1)


    Tobacco use is permitted only at a reasonable distance (e.g. 50 to 100 feet or more) outside any enclosed area to ensure that secondhand smoke does not enter the area through entrances, windows, ventilation systems or any other means. (Option 2)

  4. Supervisors will discuss the issue of tobacco breaks with their staff. They will develop effective solutions that do not interfere with the productivity of staff.


  1. This policy is being announced three months in advance in order to facilitate a smooth transition.
  2. Employees will be informed about this policy through the policy manual, orientation and training, and signs posted at our facilities and in our vehicles.
  3. Visitors will be informed about this policy through signs and it will be explained by their host.
  4. Our company will assist employees who wish to quit using tobacco by facilitating access to recommended tobacco cessation programs and/or materials.
  5. Any violations of this policy will be handled through standard disciplinary procedures.
  6. If employees have questions, they can contact our human resources representative.

Sources: CDC and Americans for Nonsmokers Rights.

Develop a Communication Plan

Communication and compliance are closely related. The more time and effort spent on frequently communicating the policy in multiple ways and locations, the easier it will be to enforce the policy. Develop a communication plan to inform your employees about the change in the tobacco use policy and prepare them for implementation. Post signs at all building entrances, on the grounds and in vehicles so that the policy is clear to visitors as well as employees.

Once leadership decides on the new tobacco use policy, there's an important need to inform all employees about the upcoming changes. Announce a timeline for implementing the policy and cessation activities. The announcement should be made significantly in advance of the policy's effective date (three-to-six months) to allow smokers to prepare for changes and to permit any facility or material changes that might be necessary (such as removal of ashtrays, installation of signs). It is recommended that cessation support be offered at the same time as the advance announcement of the pending policy change as well as before and after the effective date. Research shows that tobacco use restrictions motivate people to think about quitting.

Announce the policy and cessation support by using your standard communication channels (examples include websites, e-mails, letters to employees, paycheck stuffers, posters, and notices in employee newsletters). It is important to demonstrate that management fully supports the policy.

Plan to communicate with your employees often, at least monthly, prior to implementation of the policy. Use numerous communication channels: memos, e-mails, notices in employee publications, staff meetings, presentation to managers and/or regular memos or e-mails from your CEO or other leader.

Set a positive tone from the very beginning: the purpose of the policy is not to punish or single out smokers. The keys to successful communication:

  • Focus on smoking, not the smoker;
  • Focus on health, not individual rights;
  • Be honest with employees about why you are changing the policy; and
  • Obtain (and communicate frequently) top management commitment and support.

It is important that all employees understand the policy changes and the implications of these changes. Managers or supervisors need to understand their responsibilities for implementing and enforcing the policies, and may want to hold meetings to familiarize them with their roles.

Utilize Compliance Aids

To assist in compliance, all employees need to be informed. The company should engage in a continuing program to explain and clarify the purposes and requirements of the policy to the employees affected by it. All building entrances, key locations on the grounds and vehicles subject to the policy should display a conspicuous sign stating the non-tobacco use status. The international "No Smoking" or "No Tobacco Use" symbols consisting of a pictorial representation of tobacco products enclosed in a circle with a bar across it is considered acceptable.

Communication and education are the most important factors in successfully implementing a new tobacco-free policy. In addition to posting signs about the policy, provide those in charge of enforcing the policy with a friendly-reminder approach, in the form of a positively worded post card or business card that reminds the smoker/tobacco user of the new policy and thanks them for their cooperation. On the reverse side is information on how to quit tobacco use, including QuitlineNC, that state's free telephone cessation service, available at 1-800-Quit-Now (1-800-784-8669). These can be handed out by formal leaders and informal leaders during the days leading up to the ordinance going into effect, and as a friendly reminder after the ordinance is in effect.

See link below to view sample compliance tools.

N.C. Tobacco Control Policy Local Government Toolkit

Review of Key Factors that facilitate compliance include:

  • Staff involvement during policy development and implementation;
  • Clear signage and communication,both pre and post-implementation;
  • Leadership and support shown by management and supervisors;
  • Patience, perseverance, and consistency as the workforce/clients/visitors adapt to the change; and
  • Recognition of staff members who assist with compliance.

Possible Issues and Sample Responses

  1. Will there be a reduction in health care costs at the end of year one?

    Clarify the difficulties in promising savings in health care costs within one year. If you accurately identify who is smoking before the new policy takes effect, a careful assessment of the changes in smoking among employees at the end of year one can calculate the cost benefit of the smoke-free policy.

  2. Does secondhand smoke really have any adverse health effects on nonsmokers?

    Inform employees about the known health effects of secondhand smoke by using reliable information such as the U.S. Surgeon General's Report.

    Surgeon General's Report on SHS 2006

    You may want to seek the support of your local health director or another public health professional.

  3. Should employees be allowed to take time away from their jobs to participate in cessation activities?

    You can plan cessation programs at times that are not part of the work day but are convenient for employees (e.g., before work, during lunch, or after work). Encourage use of the 1-800-QUIT NOW cessation support service available to all in North Carolina who want to quit using tobacco products.

  4. Will a smoke-free policy result in the loss of smoking employees?

    Very few employees leave their jobs because of implementation of smoke-free policies: 3 percent of an extensive small business sample and 2 percent of another sample said employees left due to a smoke-free policy.

  5. Will a smoke-free (or tobacco-free) policy be too difficult to enforce?

    Enforcement procedures are almost never needed, because most policies are self-enforcing and compliance is very high. Compliance is high because both management and employees communicate the policy well and support the smoke-free policy.

  6. Will a smoke-free policy alienate visitors?

    In most all cases, clearly posted signs are enough to alert visitors about the smoke-free policy. Some local government agencies that have a lot of the public in the building may decide to hand out a small card explaining the smoke-free policy.

  7. Won't a smoke-free policy (or tobacco-free) cost too much time and money to implement?

    Experience and survey data have clearly demonstrated that developing and implementing a smoke-free policy is not expensive or time consuming. Costs and time can be saved with a designed implementation. Clear communication is the key element.

For further information or assistance, please contact:

Pamela S. Diggs, MPH, Director of Program Development
(919) 707-5407


Jim D. Martin, MS, Director of Policy and Programs
(919) 707-5404

I Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Smoking-Attributable Mortality, Morbidity, and Economic Costs (SAMMEC), accessed August 7, 2007 at:

ii Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids "The Toll of Tobacco in North Carolina" Fact Sheet, accessed July 7, 2010 at:

iii Behan, DF, Eriksen, MP, and Lin Y. Economic Effects of Environmental Tobacco Smoke. Society of Actuaries. 2005.

iv Plescia, M.; Wansink, D., Waters, H.R., and Herndon, S. P. Medical Costs of Second Hand Smoke Exposure in North Carolina. North Carolina Medical Journal. Feb-March 2011.