Surely your company has gone smoke-free by now. If you’re one of the nicotine-stained masses, you’re braving the November chill to get your fix outside, like an animal. (Why is it that smokers always head out coat-less, no matter what the weather?) Only at home can you puff away to your blackening lungs’ abandon.
Get ready to give up that right, too. If you live in Florida, your employer might already be demanding that you stop smoking at home. That’s right: bosses are forbidding workers to smoke at all. According to this TV news report forwarded to me by my colleague Daniel Eisenberg,
Westgate Resorts, the largest private employer in Central Florida, has banned smoking and won’t budge from a policy of not hiring smokers and firing employees who do smoke.
What brought that on?
“When I found out it was legal to discriminate against smokers, I put the policy in place,” Westgate president and CEO David Seigel said.
Seigel told Local 6 that the policy was prompted by the death of his close friend — a heavy smoker who died of cancer.
“If you are too stupid to understand that smoking is going to kill you, then we are going to tell you that if you want to work for our company, you will not smoke,” Seigel said.
Employers have reasons to ban smokers beyond their personal biases.
Seigel said his policy is cost effective and said since it went into effect, health insurance claims have gone down significantly — making insurance more affordable for employees.
Westgate, and Florida employers, are hardly the only ones zeroing in on smoking by employees. Scotts Miracle-Gro in Maryville, Ohio, was the subject of a February cover story by Businessweek titled “Get Healthy—or Else.” It tells the tale of a lawn-care technician named Scott Rodrigues whose career at Scotts met a jarring end:
…on Sept. 1—which happened to be his 30th birthday—Rodrigues was fired. “Why?” he asked. “You failed your drug test,” the boss replied. Rodrigues insisted it had to be a mistake. He didn’t even keep beer in the fridge. Then his boss told him the drug was nicotine. “Five years ago, if you had told me, Hey, you better quit smoking or you might not get a job,’ I would have laughed. Here I am five years later, and I can’t get a job.”
I’m not a smoker, and I’ve lost family members to the damaging habit. I get the part about not wanting smokers to drive up insurance premiums for the rest of us. But unless the smoking has direct bearing on the job at hand–say, I don’t know, food preparation–is it fair to deny them employment? What about the obese? Is banning the hiring of overweight people–who, like smokers, could theoretically control their conditions–next? What do you all think?
POST SCRIPT: Whaddaya know—a second after I posted this entry, what do I find in my mailbox but a company e-mail urging employees to quit smoking. From the e-mail, which pushes the services of a smoking cessation service:
Faced with healthcare costs related to smoking escalating, and the decade-long decline in smoking rates coming to a halt, employers need to be proactive in helping their workers stop smoking. On November 15, The American Cancer Society will celebrate the 31st annual Great American Smokeout — a great time for employers to encourage their smoking employees to give up smoking for 24 hours in the hope that this head start will help them kick the habit.
A recent survey of employers by the National Business Group on Health reports that a majority of employers ranked smoking as one of the greatest priority health issues facing their companies, second only to obesity, but only two percent offer the comprehensive benefit recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Employers that need more urging to help their workers quit smoking should consider these alarming statistics:
• Cigarette smoking has been identified as the most important source of preventable morbidity and premature mortality worldwide. Smoking-related diseases claim an estimated 438,000 American lives each year. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
• Smoking costs the United States over $167 billion each year in health-care costs including $92 billion in mortality-related productivity losses, $75 billion in direct medical expenditures or an average of $3,702 per adult smoker. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
• In 2005, an estimated 45.1 million, or 21.0 percent of adults were current smokers. The annual prevalence of smoking has declined 40 percent between 1965 and 1990, but has been unchanged virtually thereafter. (National Health Interview Survey. Vital and Health Statistics. Series 10, No. 232, Oct. 4, 2006)
• Workplaces nationwide are going smoke-free to provide clean indoor air and protect employees from the life-threatening effects of secondhand smoke. Nearly 70 percent of the U.S. workforce worked under a smoke free policy in 1999, but the percentage of workers protected varies by state, ranging from a high of 83.9 percent in Utah and 81.2 percent in Maryland to 48.7% in Nevada. (Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine 2001; 43:680-686).
• In 2005, an estimated 46.1 million adults were former smokers. Of the current 45.1 million smokers, 42.5 percent of current smokers had stopped smoking at least 1 day in the preceding year because they were trying to quit smoking completely. (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report October 2005.)