As smoking bans become more common nationwide, employers are taking it one step further and refusing to hire people who smoke. Primarily in hospitals, employers "won't hire applicants whose urine tests positive for nicotine use, whether cigarettes, smokeless tobacco or even patches," reports Wendy Koch of USA Today.
"We have to walk the walk if we talk the talk," said David Fotsch of Idaho's Central District Health Department, whose board agreed to stop hiring smokers last month.
"We're trying to promote a complete culture of wellness," said Mary Marshall of the Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pa., which likewise stopped hiring smokers. "We're not denying smokers their right to tobacco products. We're just choosing not to hire them."
As for how many U.S. businesses are opting not to hire smokers, there is no data but "the trend appears strongest with hospitals," Koch reports.
Critics say the practice is the equivalent of employment discrimination. "It's a very dangerous precedent," said Michael Siegel, a professor at Boston University's School of Public Health.
"What's next? Are you not going to hire overly-caffeinated people," said Nate Shelman, Boise's KBOI radio talk show host. "I'm tired of people seeing smokers as an easy piñata."
But federal laws do not view the move as discrimination because smokers are not recognized as a protected class. Still, 29 states, including Kentucky, as well as the District of Columbia, have passed smoker-protection laws.
Paul Billings of the American Lung Association said he is not convinced that refusing to hire people who smoke will help them quit — smoking cessation programs probably are more effective, he thinks — but the ALA nevertheless opts not to hire them. "We're non-smoking exemplars," he said. (Read more)