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Barring smokers from employment isn't right, researchers say

January 21, 2009 |  4:00 pm

Smoker1Smoking bans in public buildings, workplaces, even at some outdoor venues are now commonplace. And becoming more common is the practice of barring smokers from employment. But this approach is unfair and may have unintended consequences that do more harm than good, say researchers in an essay published today in the journal Tobacco Control.

Policies prohibiting the hiring of smokers have become much more popular in the past year, a co-author of the report, Dr. Michael Siegel, said today in an interview. One U.S. company, for example, has stopped hiring smokers, has made smoking outside the workplace a fireable offense and even has extended its smoking ban to employees' spouses. Siegel, a professor at Boston University School of Public Health, is a tobacco-control advocate. But he and co-author Brian Houle, of the University of Washington, fear the widespread adoption of such policies may make smokers nearly unemployable, cause them to lose their health insurance and affect their health and that of their families.

Moreover, they say, refusing to hire smokers is discriminatory and may lead to the adoption of other selective employment practices, such as not hiring people who are overweight or who have high cholesterol.

"People have thought about the positive benefits of these programs," says Siegel, such as the fact that they may reduce absenteeism and increase productivity. "But we don't think people have thought through the negative consequences. We're looking at this from a broader public-health perspective."

Tobacco-control advocates are divided over the merits of barring smokers from the workplace. Some fear that speaking out against the employment bans will get them branded as "traitors to the cause," Siegel said.

"Smoking is a very powerful addiction," he said. "Tobacco-control practitioners have naturally become very frustrated that it's so difficult to get people to quit. The problem is that we can't let that frustration cloud our vision about what is appropriate and what is not appropriate. This represents employment discrimination. And I believe, from a public-health perspective, we need to shun that."

Employers typically favor positive approaches to encourage healthy employee behavior, such as free smoking-cessation classes. But Siegel predicts that workplace bans will become more popular as employers look for every approach to cut healthcare costs. About half of all states have laws that protect employees from being fired or not hired because they smoke. But other states have no such protections.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

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Comments (30)

I think it's unfair, but I'm not sure if smokers would have a case. Outside of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin (under civil rights law), gender (Equal Pay Act), age (Age Discrimination in Employment Act), and disabilities (Americans with Disabilities Act), private employers can really chose who they want to hire or fire.

"Intervention" as it is termed in more realistic language is forced medical treatment without request, Informed consent or justification beyond moral dictates.

The comments here, claiming people are forced to go elsewhere to avoid tobacco smoke is recognition that such places do exist and choice is available however it would somehow be an insult for a person to have an ability to make their own choices. The underlying demand is to eliminate all choice, by the use of what can only be described as equivalent to tambourine banging and the waving of bibles. To decree some in society are more important than others. In the same society which declares it's strengths in diversity and inclusive principles. Hardly credible or a strong indication of stability, when the majority believe they can no longer trust each other. Believing instead that laws are more important than the communities they oppress, to demand individual consistency. Have people forgotten communities are constructed in the power of good and in working in harmony. Laws are formed and grow proportionate to the growth of the evil that men do to each other. The increasing demand for more laws hardly places us in a positive light, or indicates we have much left in the way of confidence we are developing long lasting communities, when we insist on oppressing ourselves at the alter of "safety"?

The addicted and unwashed masses today are said to have no place in society and should be judged as impaired even in the absence of intoxication. A burden as the foundation of targeted taxatiuon of a group who can be identified by a single word yet the backyard lawyers claim this group so well known and despised can not ever be defined as a class in court actions. Someday they will learn the folly of that belief and realize the cost to compensate it. A burden today, to that unrecognized "class" of 50 million real people, which is well in excess of their claimed burden. Funds stolen are used frivolously to finance the pleasures of the larger group.

It should never be forgotten when the majority of the population smoked the minority found ways of accommodating them without fear. Today the fear is the promotion and divided communities are the effect.

If we can not understand the value of simply placing a sign and allowing choice, what have we learned from the disasters and human carnage evident, of witch burnings, Eugenics, the holy crusades and Hitler's Germany?

Devising new reasons by such deluded pretzel science as exists in theoretic calculations, which define "second hand smoke" and now the new terror found in "third hand smoke".

Quoted from Science America; Stanton Glanz described second hand and third hand smoke to be "astronomically more toxic than auto exhaust". The measure of that truth could be found in two garages in less than an hour. Or without employing human experimentation, in examining the fine particulate found in second hand smoke and comparing it to the same measure of ultra fine particulate from diesel exhaust and evaluating toxicity and true risk.

we know by observational science Mr. Glanz is speaking from his bible prophesies, and has little recognition of reality. We have simply selected and defined a reason to hate our selves and find new divisions to stroke the egos of the bigots who promote such divisive policies as smoking bans and fat pandemics. A new world order, where policing and law making happens on the street with no shackles of autonomy rights, integrity or reality to stand in the way. Societal norm is promoted by hatred and defined in good and evil by the most well financed voices, who can only recognize their own needs and would deny the same comfort they demand to others. If you have a right to breathe clean air without a trace of second hand smoke, are you willing to provide clean air to people who smoke after they quit, without auto exhaust as a fair exchange in return?

It is only fair if you want, you have to give, that is the balance of how rights are created. So how many of the executives of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, will be walking to work tomorrow morning?

Where did this mantra of health and safety originate. It started the day the world health organization accepted HIA health interventions making personal health and public health a means to provide considerable profit with minimal investment and began partnering with the largest for profit, organizations on the planet. Which brought the forces of greed and the angst of increased bottom line on board. To motivate divisions of the cult of nanny state versus the sinners who don't abide by the rules of higher profit for the gods of industry, who define safety in their own image and that of political correctness to form the acceptable ethics of those we elect.

Consider the source and follow the money has always been an old reliable source of measuring integrity, too bad this brave new world lost the power to simply look, with both eyes open.


"the widespread adoption of such policies may make smokers nearly unemployable, cause them to lose their health insurance and affect their health and that of their families." Ever heard of quitting? People do it all the time. It's time for smokers to take responsibility and stop expecting society to mold itself around their drug addiction.

By the way, I'd like to meet some of these people who only smoke at home or on their way to work. I haven't come across too many. Mostly they just say that when they want a job and then smoke at work anyway.

Anyone stupid enough to still smoke with all that we know about the ill effects of tobacco already fails the intelligence test in my book. I wouldn't hire one for that reason alone, even apart from the extra medical bills and sick days.

I just filled out an app for Scotts Lawn and garden - customer service rep and got to the part where it says they will not hire anyone using nicotine. I withdrew my app and stated it is a legal substance and un-american to ban someone from employment. I can't believe this is going on here in America. Our Founding Fathers are turning over in their graves. What does smoking have to do with how good someone performs over the phone? Nothing. If you use Scott's lawn service and are a smoker, please find a more American company to do your lawns... smokers need to boycott Scott's based on this hire practice alone. They even state that you have to take a drug test which include a nicotine test and can't even be on the gum as that will show up on the test...are you kidding me! What is next, a McDonalds cheeseburger test? What is happening to our freedoms?



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