Hot off the press: Tobacco-Free Hiring…A step to better health or a step too far?

In this very interesting article published recently at NY Times, A.G Sulzberger presents a new employment trend, as observed in some settings in the United States: smokers now face the risk of not being employed or getting fired- even if they smoke in their own space and during their leisure time.  Some companies go as far as conducting urine tests to detect nicotine in their employees’ system or fire people who have been “caught” smoking in their lunch time.

Companies who practice “tobacco free hiring” claim that they try to promote a healthy lifestyle for their employees and also to dicrease health care costs, as it is not fair that non-smokers have to subside for their smoking co-workers unhealthy lifestyle, should the latter get smoking-related health problems.

Voices of concern, however, are raised about consequences that unemployment itself could have on peoples’ health and also about where the line should be drawn regarding what constitutes a risk behaviour during leisure time (even more, a risk behaviour that will be decisive on someone’s employment status). Unhealthy diet leading to obesity, alcohol consumption and extreme sports quickly come to mind and raise some eyebrows about a) why only smoking  is targeted and b) what future might bring regarding *insert risk behaviour here* free hiring.

What is your opinion on this new trend? Should companies have the right to choose their employees based on habits practiced outside working hours? Is this a practice that could be effective in reducing smoking rates? Or are such policies discriminatory and even hypocritical, since they ignore other health risk behaviours that might also pose a burden on health care costs and peoples’ health? And should other risk behaviours also be targeted in the future?

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2 Responses

  1. Glew says:

    Oh wow. And here I thought the United States were “the land of the free”. Maybe now it’s the “land of the tobacco-free”?
    I am not a big fan of “Human Freedom” (like as “I do whatever I want because I have the right to”) and especially not a fan of tobacco. But for me this is just wrong. A wrong approach and as the article already suggests: hypocritical. Or maybe it isn’t hypocritical at all, as the companies say they do it because it costs them money: increased risk=increased insurance payment.
    As of now, I think I can say that it is unjust discrimination. Smoking is not illegal nor is alcohol consumption e.g. Is it an increased risk? Yes it is. Is it highly advisable to avoid/stop smoking? Indeed it is. Is it a simple thing to do (to stop smoking)? Not at all!
    If an employer is so much concerned for his workers’ health(insurance bill) then he could help them stop smoking. Provide some professional help for smoking employees, educate them. There it is: workplace health promotion. I can’t back this up with any review but I’m sure support/cooperation is most of the time more effective then rigid restrictions and regulations.

    Also not to mention that being single, pregnancy or homosexual lifestyle mean an increase of risk in certain areas, nevertheless it is illegal to discriminate people based on those things. While it is understandable that an employer’s main goal (except for a few special sectors) is to make profit and to make us much of it as possible, I think it should always be kept in mind, that a more satisfied worker who likes (or at least doesn’t hate) his job is more productive and earns more profit. Workers who are humiliated and kept under extra pressure (urine tests, really?!) are -in my opinion- less likely to be motivated in earning profit.

    Oh, and would it be effective in reducing smoking? Probably, as (long time) unemployed people tend to spend their money on alcohol…

  2. thomy tonia says:

    thank you for your comment! I am wondering whether this will become a practice in europe too at some point…

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