In an ongoing effort to address rising health care costs, the City of Milton is hitting tobacco users where it hurts---not in the lungs, but in the pocketbook.

Starting Oct. 1, Milton City is officially becoming a tobacco-free workplace.

City employees who continue to use tobacco products will be required to contribute five percent toward their heath care insurance. The City currently pays 100 percent of an employee-only health insurance and 65 percent of employee and dependent health coverage.

City Manager Brian Watkins says the additional cost averages around $17 a pay period. The costs add up to roughly $408 over the course of a year.

"Our health costs were climbing every year," Watkins said. "This will help us look at and eventually control our health care costs."

Not only has the city required tobacco users to begin contributing to their health insurance, but they have approved a policy, starting Oct. 1, to hire only non-tobacco users. Smoking and using tobacco products is prohibited on city property, in city vehicles and on city time.

Watkins said the city has been working on the policy since implementing a Health and Wellness program a year-and-a-half ago. The city partnered with a local hospital, conducting health screenings and health assessments of the approximately 125 city employees.

The assessment data was compiled and the results were given to city officials. The city Manager said they used the raw information gathered in the assessments to tailor the Health and Wellness program initiatives. As part of the program, city employees are privy to health seminars, pertaining to the main health issues, throughout the year.

The three biggest health issues facing the city workforce were heart disease, diabetes and cancer risks. Watkins said some of the main driving factors were excessive weight, low vegetables intake via nutrition and tobacco use.

But only tobacco users are being penalized with a five percent contribution. The city will not be penalizing the obese, or those predisposed to high blood pressure with coronary risks, Watkins said.

The city offered three different tobacco cessation programs, free to employees in preparation for the paradigm shift. The city may continue offering the free programs to help employees kick the habit for good.

Currently, the city provides health care through United Health. As of Oct. 1, providers will change to Florida Municipal Insurance Trust.