In 2011, Jacob Sullum, who writes for the libertarian site Reason, explored the unofficial ban on hiring smokers in the United States.
It’s peculiar that employers choose non-mind-altering nicotine as a target. Tobacco Control refer to smokers as helpless addicts who must be punished, first by ever-escalating taxes (75% to 80% of the price of a pack of 20 cigarettes) then by unemployment or protracted job searches.
Anyone who has paid any attention to anti-smoking propaganda over the years could tell you that smokers are the enemy whenever it’s convenient. They are portrayed as victims in product liability suits and pleas for limits on tobacco advertising but villains in campaigns for higher cigarette taxes and ever-more-comprehensive smoking bans. If anti-smoking activists truly believed that smokers are helpless nicotine slaves, why would they support policies that “punish an addiction” through punitive, regressive taxes and restrictions that make it increasingly difficult for these addicts to get their fix (for example, by banning separate smoking rooms in workplaces and smoking near the entrances of office buildings)?
As far as employing smokers is concerned, Sullum says it should be the employer’s right to choose, although this would apply equally to non-smokers.
It is a mystery that, if this is such an overwhelming issue, why more employers just don’t say at the outset that a smoker might have to contribute to his own company-provided health insurance above the premium the employer pays for a non-smoker. If Company XYZ pays $100 per non-smoker and a smoker’s premium were $125, then, the employer could ask that the excess amount be deducted each month from the smoker’s pay, take it or leave it.
As for the oft-mentioned ‘smokers take more sick days’, I have noticed over my working years that most people taking sick days had never touched tobacco in their lives. Smokers showed up nearly every day, many of them starting early. They also seemed to have much more energy throughout the day and applied greater concentration to the work at hand. In the days of smoking lounges, many smokers held work-based discussions or took a report to read.
Unlike non-smokers, my smoking colleagues weren’t running off to the tea room every 20 minutes or sitting down to gossip with a colleague. How much do non-smokers lose a company in productive time?
Sullum’s main complaint is where this prohibition of employment and ‘public health’ campaigns are taking Western society and government:
The real slippery slope threat comes not from increasingly nosy employers but from an increasingly intrusive government that considers promoting “public health” part of its mission and interprets that concept broadly enough to encompass everything people do that might increase their own risk of disease or injury. That totalitarian tendency is reinforced by the government’s ever-expanding role in health care, which transforms a moralistic, pseudo-medical argument into a fiscal imperative by giving every taxpayer a stake in his neighbor’s lifestyle. A smoker or fat guy turned away by one employer can always look for work elsewhere, but citizens subject to the state’s coercive health-oriented interventions cannot easily pick a different government.
He has a point, although that still doesn’t cover the basic problem, which is that smokers — no matter how clean they are or few cigarettes they have — face increasing discrimination in the workplace.
The most egregious aspect of hiring policy is the complete prohibition of tobacco for employees, not just at work but at home, too. Even worse, there have also been reports of non-smoking employees’ spouses being targeted by a wife or husband’s employer! One example is Weyco Inc., located in Michigan (emphases mine below):
Weyco Inc., now part of health-benefits manager Meritain Health, had not only a no-smoking policy that included mandatory tobacco testing of workers, but a no-smoking policy for spouses as well. No Michigan statute prohibits that kind of action, [attorney Lewis] Maltby says.
Talk about an employer owning family life. It’s lifestyle slavery.
Ex-smokers on nicotine substitutes also face problems. In 2012, USA Today carried an article on the subject stating that even someone who wants to kick the habit might find getting a job difficult:
More job-seekers are facing an added requirement: no smoking — at work or anytime.
As bans on smoking sweep the USA, an increasing number of employers — primarily hospitals — are also imposing bans on smokers. They won’t hire applicants whose urine tests positive for nicotine use, whether cigarettes, smokeless tobacco or even patches.
Such tobacco-free hiring policies, designed to promote health and reduce insurance premiums, took effect this month at the Baylor Health Care System in Texas and will apply at the Hollywood Casino in Toledo, Ohio, when it opens this year.
Fascism at work.