A New York Times story about some companies’ decisions to exclude smokers as potential hires drew so much reader contention that comments were no longer being accepted, while existing commentary was reduced to a “highlight reel” to help readers wade through it all.
According to the story, hospitals and medical businesses in many states have found that efforts such as banning smoking on company grounds, offering cessation programs and increasing healthcare premiums for smokers haven’t been incentive enough for smoking employees to quit.
And so they’re turning to a different kind of policy change, adopting measures that would turn smoker-applicants away at the door so as to “increase worker productivity, reduce health care costs and encourage healthier living.” Hospitals in Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas stopped hiring smokers in the last year, and more are considering it.
The shift from smoke-free to smoker-free, says author A.G. Sulzberger, “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.” Among new measures being implemented are nicotine-detecting urine tests for job seekers, termination for busted smokers, and applications warning of “tobacco-free hiring.”
Among the most vociferous “pro ban” comments, a running theme included the fact that non-smokers felt that they compensated for the loss of productivity from colleagues who took multiple smoke breaks throughout the day. Another common theme involved healthcare workers lighting up. As “Taylor” in Boston put it, “I'd LOSE IT if I found out that a smoker came anywhere near my newborn. I don't care if he or she washed hands. I don't even care if he or she was wearing a coat and then removed it. I don't want third-hand smoke near my infant's lungs. I'd love to give birth at a hospital with a no-smokers-employed-here policy. Interestingly, the comments by non-smokers often mirrored the internal conflict of antismoking non-profit groups who so far oppose the ban: Is smoking worse, or invading workers’ privacy?
Unapologetic smokers also weighed in, like “Danielmay” from Arizona: “Many people on here decry the increased medical costs of smokers, claiming they have to pay more to "subsidize" us. A bald-faced lie. Not only does your insurance form ask if you are a smoker (and thus charge you more), the ridiculous taxes paid on cigarettes more than make up for it. In fact, in Arizona, a new tax was added a few years ago to cigarettes to SUBSIDIZE children's health care. So who is paying for who?”
But in the end, it seemed that most commenters’ problems with the new policies – on both sides of the smoke cloud – had to do with companies legislating what workers do on their own time. Personally, I’m undecided where I fall. I’m uneasy about smokers in scrubs because of the example they (don’t) send, yet I’m not sure they should be fired if they’re otherwise competent. I’ve also been one of those irritated non-smokers who felt I was bolstering my colleagues’ multiple daily smoke breaks. Maybe there’s a more creative way to solve the problem. Weigh in if you have one.