Baltimore County plans to prohibit employees from smoking in government vehicles, including police cars and maintenance trucks, a county health official confirmed.

Dr. Gregory Wm. Branch, the county health officer, recommended the move to county Administrative Officer Fred Homan last week, citing the health risks of secondhand smoke.

"Secondhand smoke can remain in [homes and cars] through contaminated dust and surfaces, even if smoking took place days, weeks and even months earlier," Branch wrote in the letter obtained by The Baltimore Sun. "The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has concluded that secondhand smoke is an occupational carcinogen."

Branch said he made the recommendation because he has a responsibility to protect all county constituents, including employees. He said County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's administration has told him that it would adopt the ban.

"What we know is that secondhand smoke is deleterious to adults, to children, to pregnant women and believe it or not, to animals," Branch said.

Employees who smoke in the vehicles can harm others' health, Branch said, and some nonsmoking employees have complained about lingering cigarette smoke.

"There are others that don't smoke that have to ride in those vehicles," he said. "The carcinogens, the smoke, remain in the car, on the surfaces."

In adults, secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer, coronary disease, nasal irritation, and an increased risk of bronchitis and pneumonia, Branch wrote in the letter. In children, consequences include middle-ear problems, impaired lung function and lower respiratory illness.

The county owns about 1,500 vehicles, said Don Mohler, chief of staff to Kamenetz. Of those, about 800 are public safety — mostly police — vehicles.

Under current county policy, employees may not smoke if there are two or more people in a vehicle, but may smoke if they are riding alone, Mohler said.

alisonk@baltsun.com

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