Now Hiring, Unless You're a Smoker

Nicotine-free hiring policies ban smokers from workforce

With the unemployment rate hovering near 10 percent, finding a job in this economy is no easy feat. But now, it may get even harder for a certain group of people -- namely, those who smoke. Job descriptions in the help wanted section may soon include the words, “smokers need not apply.”

Some companies are choosing to ban smokers from their workplace -- not by limiting cigarette breaks or making them go to special cordoned-off areas several feet from the building’s entrance (though those tactics have been adopted by many businesses in recent years) -- but by refusing to hire them.

The most recent company to announce their new no-smokers policy is Massachusetts Hospital Association. The Cleveland Clinic, Alaska Airlines and Union Pacific Railroad have also adopted what’s being called a nicotine-free hiring policy. New applicants must submit to a urine test and if they don’t pass are either not hired or, in some cases, allowed to take a smoking cessation program.

The reason is to cut soaring health care costs. According to the Mayo Clinic, smokers cost employers $3,391 per year -- $1,300 more per year than the cost of a nonsmoker -- in medical expenses. On top of that, a 2007 Swedish study found that smokers take 14 more sick days a year than people who never smoked and nine more than former smokers (which makes us wonder just how many sick days a person gets in Sweden).

Of course, as we recently reported in the Daily Dose, research shows hiring obese people is costly, too. A Duke University study found that an obese woman can cost a business  nearly $17,000, due to health-related absenteeism, medical expenses and poor job productivity. In fact, bringing anyone who has a health condition into your workforce is going to cost more than a few extra pennies. But refusing to hire someone because of her weight or health status is discriminatory, whereas banning someone because she smokes is not. At least, for now.

Smokers’ rights groups and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are calling such hiring practices unconstitutional “lifestyle discrimination.” According to the Christian Science Monitor, many states have laws in place that prevent employers from instituting tobacco-free hiring policies.

Honestly, I’m not sure where I stand on the issue. I can’t stand smoking, and I think anyone who smokes in public is unkindly subjecting others to their carcinogens and pollution. But should they be banned from the workforce? That’s where my emotional and logical opinions divide. After all, smoking is considered an addiction. If someone’s cigarette habit isn’t so much a choice but an addiction that they have no control over, then how can we punish him or her? It’s the same thing as discriminating against someone for her genetic propensity towards obesity. Genes alone don’t make you obese – your lifestyle plays a part, too. In fact, most every health condition is a combination of genes and lifestyle. Heart disease and diabetes are hugely preventable conditions. So at what point do we hold people accountable for their health and refuse to hire them because they’re not doing everything they can to stay healthy? There have got to be better ways to cut company costs than this.

What do you think about the nicotine-free hiring policies? Chime in below.  

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