SAVANNAH, Ga. - The next generation of police officers and firefighters on the streets of Savannah won't be allowed to smoke, officials say.
The city has a progressive health insurance plan that covers smoking cessation classes and products for its employees.
As part of that anti-smoking plan, newly hired police officers and firefighters are required to sign a pledge promising to be tobacco-free.
Although it's a policy that has been in place for six years, a few uniformed men and women admit they are still hooked on nicotine.
But the habit long associated with police and firefighters has become less popular - either because of the tobacco-free policy or the pressures to quit nationwide.
"Years ago it used to be that after fighting a fire, all the guys would light up," said Savannah Fire Battalion Chief Tony Faust. "There are still some old-timers who smoke, but you don't see it around the stations like you used to. People understand the reason behind the policy."
Since the mid-1990s, the city has tried to make quitting easier by paying for cessation products and programs. Savannah also prohibits smoking in city vehicles and buildings.
In 1998, the city's tobacco-free plan went one step further and specifically targeted police officers and firefighters because their jobs are more physically demanding.
New hires now must promise not to smoke or chew tobacco throughout their employment.
"In order to respond effectively, they need to be fit," said Lizann Provan, the city's employee health coordinator. "Being physically fit is part of their job."
Tobacco use among Savannah's fire and police employees has dropped 30 percent and 20 percent, respectively, between 1996 and 2002.
Enforcement of the policy is up to the individual departments, said Angela Chavis, the city's senior human resource analyst and recruiter of tobacco-free police and firefighters. She said she hasn't had any recruits turn down a job offer because of the tobacco-free agreements.