A growing number of employers are not hiring smokers, USA Today reports. Hospitals are in the forefront of this trend, which aims to promote employees’ health and reduce insurance premiums.
Employers who have recently announced such policies include the Baylor Health Care System in Texas, and the Hollywood Casino in Toledo, Ohio. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says every year 443,000 people die from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke in the United States, and another 8.6 million suffer from a serious illness from smoking.
“We’re trying to promote a complete culture of wellness,” Marcy Marshall of the Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pennsylvania, which will start implementing its nicotine-free hiring policy in February, told the newspaper. “We’re not denying smokers their right to tobacco products. We’re just choosing not to hire them.”
Some public health experts warn that these policies punish smokers, instead of helping them quit smoking. “These policies represent employment discrimination,” said Michael Siegel, a professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health. “It’s a very dangerous precedent.”
A lobbying effort by the tobacco industry and the American Civil Liberties Union for smokers’ rights several decades ago led to smoker protection laws in 29 states and the District of Columbia. However, some of these laws exempt non-profit groups and the health care industry.
An increasing number of employers are requiring workers who smoke to pay more for their health care costs. According to a survey by the benefits consultant Towers Watson, 40 percent of employers with at least 1,000 workers have instituted a health insurance premium surcharge for smokers. Recently, Wal-Mart announced it is significantly raising health insurance premiums for many employees who smoke—up to $2,000 in additional charges per year.