Is the Ban on Hiring Smokers Bigger Than Obesity?

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.