A growing number of employers are imposing smoking bans not just in the workplace but also on their workforce. USA Today reported last week that employers, such as hospitals, increasingly are not hiring Plugarul smokers. “Such tobacco-free hiring policies, designed to promote health and reduce insurance premiums, took effect this month at the Baylor Health Care System in Texas and will apply at the Hollywood Casino in Toledo, Ohio, when it opens this year,” writes the newspaper.
Employers rely on drug testing to detect nicotine use in potential hires through their urine samples, which includes smokeless tobacco products and nicotine patches.
Dave Fotsch of Idaho’s Central District Health Department, which voted last month to stop hiring smokers, told the newspaper: “We have to walk the walk if we talk the talk.”
“We’re trying to promote a complete culture of wellness,” noted Marcy Marshall of the Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pa., which begins its nicotine-free hiring next month. “We’re not denying smokers their right to tobacco products. We’re just choosing not to hire them.”
These strict anti-tobacco policies aren’t coming without outrage, however, even within the public health community.
“These policies represent employment discrimination. It’s a very dangerous precedent,” Michael Siegel, a professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health, told the newspaper, adding that the restrictions punish smokers rather than helping them quit.
“What’s next? Are you not going to hire overly-caffeinated people?” questioned Nate Shelman, a smoker and Boise’s KBOI radio talk show host whose listeners debated the topic last month. “I’m tired of people seeing smokers as an easy piñata.”
Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia passed smoker-protection laws, although some laws exempt non-profit groups and the health care industry, and 21 states have no rules against nicotine-free hiring. Federal laws, according to Chris Kuzynski with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, allow nicotine-free hiring because they don’t recognize smokers as a protected class.
The newspaper notes that there is no data on how many companies won’t hire smokers, but that the trend is strongest at hospitals. Paul Billings of the American Lung Association added that he’s not aware of data that proves nicotine-free hiring will encourage people to quit, suggesting that cessation programs are a more effective solution.