Smokers Need Not Apply

Last Updated Feb 14, 2011 8:20 AM EST


More and more companies--especially hospitals--are not just smoke free campuses, but want smoke free employees. The New York Times reports:
[E]mployees who smoke cost, on average, $3,391 more a year each for health care and lost productivity, according to federal estimates.

"We felt it was unfair for employees who maintained healthy lifestyles to have to subsidize those who do not," Steven C. Bjelich, chief executive of St. Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau, Mo., which stopped hiring smokers last month. "Essentially that's what happens."
In theory companies certainly should be able to require their employees to be smoke free. Smoking is hardly an immutable characteristic. Like tattoos, you choose to pickup that first cigarette. However, even the seediest of tattoo parlors don't give tattoos to 13 year olds, which is the average age people start smoking.

So, essentially, you're excluding against people who made poor decisions as teenagers. If that characteristic should exclude you from employment, then you're excluding people for a pre-existing condition.

To be clear, I think companies should be able to discriminate against people who choose to smoke. I just think they shouldn't. It's a legal activity and if it doesn't interfere with your productivity, why should a company care?

Oh yes, it's the health care costs.
"There is nothing unique about smoking," said Lewis Maltby, president of the Workrights Institute, who has lobbied vigorously against the practice. "The number of things that we all do privately that have negative impact on our health is endless. If it's not smoking, it's beer. If it's not beer, it's cheeseburgers. And what about your sex life?"
As an HR person, I can say I don't want any part of interrogating people about their sex lives, Can you imagine? "So, candidate, I see that you have all the skills we're looking for. The interviews went very well and everyone is excited to bring you on board. But first, how many sexual partners have you had? How many do you intend to have over the time you work with us? And, finally, what types of sexual practices do you engage in?"

Honestly, do you want to know the answers to those questions? I sure as heck don't.

You could say this is a facetious argument. Perhaps it is. Smoking is often singled out because it's an obvious vice. We see you smoking. We smell it on your clothing and hair and (not to be rude), it stinks. By prohibiting smoking we feel noble. We're only trying to get you to stop for your own good. And sit up straight and eat your vegetables.

In a related story,
The U.S. Department of Transportation says the use of smokeless electronic cigarettes on airplanes is prohibited and plans to issue an official ban this spring, according to a letter from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood obtained by The Associated Press.
Unlike regular cigarettes these don't spew smelly, toxic smoke, into the air. The purpose in banning them from planes seems to be because we can and you shouldn't be smoking anyway.

Companies should focus on offering incentives for quitting. Smokers should have to pay higher health insurance premiums. But, if they ban people who smoke entirely, they are missing out on some great people, who made a big mistake at 13.

For further reading:
Photo by Nufkin, Flickr cc 2.0

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