A new smoke-free environment on BC Ferries could be a difficult transition for some employees, says the union representing more than 3,600 workers at the company.

As of Jan. 22, smoking will no longer be allowed on vessels or at terminals. The policy also applies to e-cigarettes, vapour products and medical marijuana.

BC Ferries has taken steps to help employees prepare for the change, including offering to pay for smoking cessation programs, said Graeme Johnston, president of the BC Ferry and Marine Workers' Union.

"I believe the company has taken reasonable measures to ensure people have treatment options available to them," he said.

But the change could be difficult for employees who are smokers and work long shifts aboard the vessels, he added.

"The real struggle will come when people are actually forced to be in a situation where they can no longer smoke on the vessels."

There have been discussions between the union and the company about possible severance for employees who don't feel they can adjust to working long shifts in a smoke-free environment, Johnston said.

'Empathy and understanding'

There is also some concern about how passengers — who are used to smoking on the outer decks and while waiting at terminals — will respond to the new policy.

"The members on the front line are there to do their jobs and enforce a company policy," Johnston said.

"If the passengers understand the employees are going through the exact same thing they are through this time, I'm hoping there will be a little more empathy and understanding."

BC Ferries announced its plan to go smoke free back in August to allow employees and customers time to prepare for the change, said spokesperson Deborah Marshall.

"I think everybody is ready," she said. "We are implementing this new policy for the health and wellness of everyone who travels with us."

Signs will be posted in terminals in the coming weeks and announcements will be made on vessels to ensure people are aware that smoking is no longer allowed as of Jan. 22, Marshall said.