Big Y Goes Smoke-free with Chainwide Ribbon Cutting

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Big Y Goes Smoke-free with Chainwide Ribbon Cutting

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Big Y here plans to kick off its new smoke-free workplace status as of July 1 by holding a companywide ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday afternoon as "a symbol of cutting ourselves free of smoking, of the addiction," Big Y health & wellness administrator Christine Jette told Progressive Grocer.

Jette added that the ceremony, which was conceived as a positive way to usher in a new smoke-free era, would include cake, because "what's better than cake?"

When asked about the genesis of the initiative, Jette said that management had been "working on [it] for a while" before making the determination in March 2006 to eventually go smoke-free. In the meantime, Springfield companies Baystate Health and Smith & Wesson had instituted similar policies. Additionally, Big Y was influenced by the rising cost of health care.

"We just want healthy people," added Jette.

Big Y has over 9,200 employees at 60 locations. The company has teamed with the American Lung Association, which trained 13 employees as "facilitators" who can hold smoking cessation classes at each store.

In addition to the desire to stop smoking, employees have an added incentive for attending all five sessions of the class, according to Jette -- they get back the $25 dollars they paid to enroll, as well as being able to keep the provided materials, which include a workbook and stress ball. Big Y will offer the classes for a year, so that associates will have "the tools and the support" they need to stop smoking, said Jette.

Although to date 144 Big Y employees have joined a smoking cessation class and 102 are currently smoke-free, Jette characterized store-level reaction among associates to the initiative as decidedly "mixed," ranging from relieved nonsmokers, to pleased smokers who were ready to quit but unsure how to start, to annoyed diehard smokers with no intentions of stopping.

"For the most part [though], people have been very, very supportive," noted Jette, herself an ex-smoker who now serves as a facilitator.

According to the Big Y policy, employees won't be able to smoke on store premises during paid breaks, and if they wish to enjoy a smoke during unpaid breaks, they'll have to go at least 50 yards from the building.

Although shoppers will, of course, not be required to give up smoking, "we're asking them to support us" by also refraining from lighting up, said Jette, who added that Big Y would continue to sell cigarettes in its stores.

"Right now we're taking care of our customers," she added. "We're taking one thing at a time."

The smoke-free workplace initiative is just a part of Big Y's health-and-wellness program, which includes a wellness team that travels by van to different locations all year long to offer free health screenings to employees. These health fairs, held in employee break rooms, test for healthy levels of cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure.

"It's a big circle," noted Jette of Big Y's various health-related measures in relation to its associates. "It's all connected."

Jette was unaware of another food retailer that had instituted a similar ban on smoking among employees. "We're all on new ground as of July 1," she noted, adding that she believed Big Y's program was the wave of the future. "It's the way it's going. How could it not?"