NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Workplaces Ban Not Only Smoking, but Smokers Themselves

January 10, 2012

As bans on smoking sweep the United States, an increasing number of employers are also imposing bans on smokers.  They won't hire applicants whose urine tests positive for nicotine use, whether cigarettes, smokeless tobacco or even patches.  Such tobacco-free hiring policies, designed to promote health and reduce insurance premiums, are under attack from the American Civil Liberties Union and the tobacco industry who charge them as being discriminatory.  But in a time of belt-tightening and cost reduction, businesses must consider that the cost of smoking is substantial, says USA Today.

  • Health care costs for tobacco users are $3,000 to $4,000 more each year than for non-smokers, says Cindy Stutts, who works at a hospital system in Virginia.
  • In addition, smokers bring a productivity loss because, on average, they take more breaks than non-smokers do.
  • Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia have implemented laws that protect smokers from these hiring bans, while the other 21 states have not.

In addition to fiscal benefits for the individual employers, some of the most recent participants in nicotine-free hiring practices did so to set an example.  Hospitals are increasingly banning the employment of smokers because they wish to send a message to patients that they abide by their own advice.

Finally, the implementation of smoking bans, along with hiring bans on smokers, is hoped to bring more attention to a large, national issue: that smoking is a substantial drain on society.

  • Each year, smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke causes 443,000 premature deaths, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • The CDC has also suggested that smoking costs the nation $193 billion in health bills and lost productivity annually.
  • The CDC reported that 19.3 percent of U.S. adults smoked last year, down from 42.4 percent in 1965.

But the policies stir outrage, even in the public health community.  "These policies represent employment discrimination.  It's a very dangerous precedent," says Michael Siegel, a professor at Boston University's School of Public Health.  He says the restrictions punish smokers rather than helping them quit.

Source: Wendy Koch, "Workplaces Ban Not Only Smoking, but Smokers Themselves," USA Today, January 6, 2012.  Tony Baker, "Addicted Smokers Are Now Being Banned from Workplaces,", January 6, 2012.

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