Smoker? This Proposed Policy Could Put You Out of a Job

Arizona’s Pima County will decide in December whether to stop hiring tobacco users and charge current employees who smoke.
(Photo: Thomas Hawk/Flickr)
Dec 7, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Kristina Bravo is Assistant Editor at TakePart.

Since the U.S. surgeon general first released a report linking tobacco to cancer in the 1950s, Americans have slowly weaned themselves off the addictive product. They’ve been so successful that last year, only 17.8 percent of U.S. adults smoked—an all-time low. Still, smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., and the habit is costing the government a lot of money in health care. So one county in Arizona has proposed a sweeping, controversial policy some say is discriminatory.

Pima County, the second-most populous county in Arizona, will vote on Dec. 16 whether to reject job applicants who smoke and charge employees who do a 30 percent health insurance surcharge, reported the Arizona Daily Star. If passed, the policy would go into effect in July of next year.

According to local health officials, the policy could save the county more than $1 million every year in health care costs. They estimate that about one-third of current employees use tobacco. If workers can prove they’ve stopped for six months, they won’t have to pay the extra fee.

“It’s not an attempt to punish anybody,” Allyn Bluzomi, the county’s human resources director, told the paper. “It’s an attempt to encourage people to be healthy.”

According to the American Lung Association, Arizona doesn’t have laws that protect the rights of smokers. (At least 29 states do.)

Pima officials aren’t the only ones attempting to curb smoking. Hospitals across the country have enforced a tobacco-free hiring policy. In October, the tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds—purveyor of Camel, Pall Mall, and other cigarette brands—announced that starting in 2015 its workers will no longer be allowed to smoke in common areas in the office. Even China, home to 300 million smokers, is considering a public smoking ban.

Expectedly, many people object to tobacco-free hiring practices, including Michael Siegel, a professor of public health at Boston University.

“If enough of these companies adopt these policies and it really becomes difficult for smokers to find jobs, there are going to be consequences,” he said in an interview with The New York Times. “Unemployment is also bad for health.”