While reading USA Today, I stumbled upon an article about a new trend of prospective hospital employees who have tested positive for nicotine being rejected by potential employers. According to the article, these tobacco-hiring policies are reinforced to encourage a healthy lifestyle and reduce insurance premiums. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that smoking costs America $193 billion in health bills, all the while taking more than 400,000 lives annually.
As a nursing student and a non-smoker, I fully understand the deadly consequences of prolonged tobacco use and appreciate the logistics behind smoking bans. As a hospital employee, however, I find this anti-smokers’ ban to be discriminatory. Although I support a smoking ban within hospital perimeters and public areas, I cannot support employers discriminating against hard-working Americans who choose to smoke outside of work. In my opinion, discriminating against smokers will open a gateway to other unconstitutional bans and create a slippery slope. If employers start banning smokers from the workplace, who will they discriminate against next?
One reason employers discriminate against smokers is to decrease insurance premiums. However, according to CDC, the No. 1 killer in America is heart disease. Increased rates of heart disease are closely related to the staggering obesity epidemic in America. Logically, it would make sense for employers to single out obese workers also. Like smoking, obesity can be controlled, yet if employers started to discriminate against obese workers, America would be outraged. How is this fair?
Fortunately for smokers, the tobacco industry lobbied for smokers’ rights and 29 states now protect smokers’ rights. The unfortunate news is that the federal government does not recognize smokers as a protected class and non-profit organizations and health care companies can still openly discriminate against those who choose to smoke in their own homes.
Instead of focusing on what a person chooses to do outside of the workplace, employers should be focusing on the person’s work ethic while on the job. The last time I checked, smoking — unlike many other substances — is considered legal. It is not the employer’s job to govern what a person chooses to do with his or her own free time unless those activities are affecting the person’s work performance.