Published on: February 14, 2011by Kevin Coupe
The New York Times reports that some hospitals and medical businesses “are adopting strict policies that make smoking a reason to turn away job applicants, saying they want to increase worker productivity, reduce health care costs and encourage healthier living.” According to the story, “there is no reliable data on how many businesses have adopted such policies. But people tracking the issue say there are enough examples to suggest the policies are becoming more mainstream, and in some states courts have upheld the legality of refusing to employ smokers. For example, hospitals in Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas, among others, stopped hiring smokers in the last year and more are openly considering the option.”
The Times notes that “the policies reflect a frustration that softer efforts - like banning smoking on company grounds, offering cessation programs and increasing health care premiums for smokers - have not been powerful-enough incentives to quit ... Applications now explicitly warn of ‘tobacco-free hiring.’ job seekers must submit to urine tests for nicotine and new employees caught smoking face termination.
“This shift - from smoke-free to smoker-free workplaces - has prompted sharp debate, even among anti-tobacco groups, over whether the policies establish a troubling precedent of employers intruding into private lives to ban a habit that is legal.”
This is an eye-opening development on a number of fronts. Here are just some of the questions that occur to me (from both sides of the issue):
• Aren’t these organizations essentially treating a legal substance as illegal?
• On the other hand, smoking is a terribly unhealthy habit, and these are organizations that are supposed to be pro-health. Therefore, doesn’t it make sense that their employees reflect a healthy lifestyle? (I’ve always thought it both ironic and troubling when you see doctors and nurses outside a hospital grabbing a smoke; why would one trust any health-related advice that such people would give?)
• However, if hospitals are going to stop hiring people who smoke, does that suggest that pretty soon they are going to stop hiring people who drink alcohol, or eat too much ice cream, or don’t eat enough vegetables? Where does this all logically end?
• Then again, since high health care costs and medical problems can affect the cost of running a business, doesn’t it actually make sense for companies to do their best to hire the healthiest people they can - and establish that a maintaining a certain base line of healthy living is a requirement for staying employed?
I can argue this both ways ... and I happen to be someone who is about as anti-smoking as one could be. (I’ve mentioned this many times on MNB. My mom died of lung cancer 13 years next month, after smoking for some four decades. She tried to quit many times, but was addicted. She finally did quit, and had been smoke-free for several years when she was first diagnosed; as Dr. Parker liked to point out, the ways of the Lord are often dark and never pretty. And it makes me happy to think that there may be a special circle of hell reserved for tobacco executives.)
There is something a little troubling about penalizing people for doing something that is, while incredibly stupid and self-destructive, still legal.
On the other hand, I cannot blame companies for wanting to purge this habit - and its associated costs, which can have enormous impact on a business.
And here’s the simple truth. If I were hiring someone, I would not hire a smoker. Could not do it. Would not do it.
I wonder how many other people and companies are going to start thinking the same way.
That’s our Monday Eye-Opener.
- KC's View: