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Is the Ban on Hiring Smokers Bigger Than Obesity?


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Ban on Hiring Smokers

The healthcare industry is leading the way when it comes to an increasingly popular trend—a ban on hiring smokers. What some are referring to as discrimination is being picked up faster than the latest Hollywood gossip on Twitter. Cleveland Clinic, Texas’ Baylor Health Care System and most recently, University of Pennsylvania Health System, are among a growing list of companies that no longer hire smokers. But is a ban on hiring smokers enough to convince the nation’s 47 million smokers to drop the habit?

Smoke Ban Vs. Waistband

Questions have been raised regarding the implications of adopting these types of policies including: Will this trend lead employers to discriminate based on existing health conditions such as obesity or diabetes? The comparison of smoking and obesity is quite the conversation starter as lawyers, tobacco companies, job seekers and others with a vested interest in the debate, continue to weigh in on the matter. Last month, Molly DiBianca, an employment lawyer in Delaware, shared her thoughts in a blog post:

“Tobacco use is a legal activity (at least for now). There are countless other legal activities that endanger the health of employees–obesity in particular. However, it would be a tremendously bad PR move to stop hiring the morbidly obese. We can refuse hiring smokers because smokers are an unpopular group in today’s society. Being a defense lawyer, I hesitate to endorse what can seem like picking on an already marginalized group.

That being said, I also recognize that health and wellness are good things. And I would readily support an employer whose real objective is to give its workforce the tools to lead healthier and, in turn, more productive lives. I just tend to think that this should not be limited to bans on smokers.”

Alternatives to Smoking Bans

Some advocates believe just as employers sponsor weight management programs for staff, they should institute smoking cessation programs to help wean people off the addictive substance. Others suggest eliminating smoke breaks and prohibiting employees from smoking on company property–a hospital littered with cigarette butts doesn’t exactly convey “healing.” Perhaps an even more appealing alternative among smokers, is substituting a real cigarette for its electronic equivalent. The CDC reports use of electronic cigarettes in the U.S. doubled from 2010 - 2011. Commonly referred to as e-cigarettes, these battery-operated devices simulate the experience of smoking a cigarette (liquid nicotine included).

Just Blowing Smoke

According to the American Lung Association, cigarette smoke contains over 4,800 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer. Obesity can be physically harmful to the overweight party, but the effects of smoking can reach beyond the tobacco user and adversely impact innocent bystanders. Secondhand smoking causes approximately 3,400 lung cancer deaths and 46,000 heart disease deaths in adult nonsmokers every year. Meanwhile, based on estimates from the Surgeon General, about 300,000 deaths can be attributed to obesity each year. The American Lung Association reports that nearly 393,000 people die from smoking annually. These figures demonstrate smoking may in fact pose a (slightly) bigger threat to human life, and therefore companies.


Your Turn to Blow Some Smoke: As a healthcare professional, should you lead by example? How does your decision to smoke during the workday impact your patients, especially those with asthma, chronic bronchitis and similar conditions? Share your opinion in our comments section.

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  1. Michael Singer says:

    I am starting a new job on Monday for a small biotech company, and since my last job I have made the switch from regular cigarettes to an e-cig. I have to say that in my personal life its improved things as friends and family don’t mind anymore, but I’m curious to see what the perception will be in the work environment. Nicotine afterall is still a poison which one is still inhaling on the e-cig, however there is not a distinct fowl odor (because all the other harmful ingredients are eliminated) with using an e-cig. I imagine some people will view it as a benign habit compared to regular smoking while others will view it as just as bad due to a lack of knowlege about the benefits. Anyways, I look forward to the day when e-cigs are encouraged as a healthier alternative, its only a matter of time before this happens.

    • shairston says:

      Hey Michael–congrats on your new job! I wonder how people (and employers) will respond to e-cigarette use, especially since a lot of smokers are making the switch…

  2. deb says:

    I think the ban on hiring smokers is illegal! What about drinking and drug abuse in the medical field? Sure, these issues are not as obvious as cigarette buts on the ground, but they do have an effect on health care workers. What about all the obese healthcare workers? They certainly aren’t projecting good health! As a smoker in the health care field, I don’t mind paying a higher premium on my health insurance benefits, but I think it is WRONG to control employees like this! Next thing you know, we will all have to look perfect ! I really think that if employers going to do this, then they should look at all the obese employees they have! I don’t think employers should be able to tell me what to do or not do when I am not working! I don’t mind not smoking while I am at work, but to discriminate against me because I am a smoker is wrong! They are denying my freedom to do what I want when I am not at work! Where do my personal liberties end when I can’t do what I want off the clock. I think this latest control tactic is just another way for this government (via the employers) to exercise more control over my freedom! Are they going to try to do a Prohibition on smokers like they tried to do on alcohol? That obviously didn’t work!

    • shairston says:

      Interesting points, Deb. This is certainly a hot-button issue. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. shelly says:

    I smoke. But, if a job requires me not to smoke during working hours, i can refrain. but they dont see that. they just ask do you smoke.. I am not going to lie..


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