First, they were kicked out of airplanes, then hospitals, and restaurants, and bars. Offices sent them out onto the streets, and some companies even refused to hire them at all. And as of Tuesday, the City Commission of Delray Beach, Fla., made it official, reports the South Florida Sun Sentinel: Smokers need not apply.
Nineteen percent of American adults smoked in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And since smoking definitely, absolutely, undeniably damages your health, those adults, on average, are more expensive to employ.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that every smoker costs his or her employer an average of $3,400 a year. The Delray Beach City Commission said the ban was a thrifty move in tight budget times, and would also promote employee health.
A few companies began refusing to hire smokers decades ago, reports USA Today. The tobacco industry and the American Civil Liberties Union declared it "lifestyle discrimination," and pushed 30 states and the District of Columbia to pass smoker-protection laws. But in Florida, the state Supreme Court in 1995 upheld an employer's right not to hire smokers.
Hollywood, Fla., has had a ban on the books since 2005, requiring job applicants to sign an affidavit saying that they haven't used tobacco in the last year. Another town there, Atlantic Beach, followed soon after, and Sarasota County hopped on the bandwagon in 2008, demanding new hires taking a drug test that detects nicotine. But outside of the Sunshine State, few public employers have dared touch the issue. Fort Worth, Texas, debated a ban on hiring smokers earlier this year, but city officials snuffed the plan before it reached the City Council.
Opponents say these bans unfairly infringe on the freedom of the individual. Even anti-smoking organizations, such as the American Legacy Foundation, have come out against these bans, saying they disproportionately target low-wage and less-educated Americans from particular minority groups. (Forty-five percent of Americans with a GED smoke, compared to 6 percent of those with a postgraduate degree, according to the CDC.)
Smokers usually start when they are young and under the influence of advertising, according to Dave Dobbins, the chief operating officer of the American Legacy Foundation. They're "hooked on an addictive drug," he says, "and now they can't get a job either."
One Delray Beach commissioner actually voted against the ban because she was concerned that it would unfairly affect minority groups and prevent qualified applicants from getting the job, according to Janice Rustin, assistant to the Delray Beach city attorney. But although they took stock of these issues, the four other members on the commission voted for it, she says.
"When we balanced those factors against the increase in health care costs in today's climate," Rustin explained, "we weighted more heavily on the health care costs."
Employers across the country have found other ways to ease the burden of the nicotine-addicted. As of last year, 19 percent of 248 major U.S. employers made their workers who smoked, were overweight, or had high cholesterol pay more toward their health care costs, reported The New York Times. Delray Beach already made its smoking employees pay a surcharge on their medical insurance premiums. And Walmart, the country's largest employer, recently introduced a $2,000 annual penalty for some smokers.
A company can make workers pay up to 20 percent of their insurance costs if they don't meet certain standards. But in 2014, the federal health care law will jack that up to 50 percent. As it stands, however, most employers offer carrots instead of smoker-bashing sticks, such as giving employees discounts if they take part in wellness programs. Delray Beach employees who currently smoke aren't going to be suddenly fired, reports the Sun Sentinel, but they can enjoy free prescription medication and classes to help them quit.
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