1994-04-28: HEADLINE: Ban on Employees Who Smoke Faces Challenges of Bias
(News Article found and donated by "Why_Nut")
The New York Times
April 28, 1994
HEADLINE: Ban on Employees Who Smoke Faces Challenges of Bias
BYLINE: By MICHAEL JANOFSKY
A growing number of private employers around the country are refusing
to hire smokers as a quick-and-easy way to hold down health care costs.
But just as swiftly, state legislatures are coming to the smokers'
defense, passing laws that prohibit hiring practices that discriminate
While a hiring ban is a relatively new tactic -- less than 10 years old
-- in the war against smoking, thousands of companies in the United
States have forbidden their employees to smoke, even off the job.
Companies say that not hiring smokers not only saves money but also improves
safety conditions, cuts down on absenteeism and minimizes the need to
train new employees to replace those who retire early because of lung
cancer, emphysema and other diseases related to smoking.
When a Lockheed plant in Marietta, Ga., announced this month that it
would no longer hire people who smoke cigarettes, company executives said
that nearly 77 percent of the plant workers with cardiac problems were
smokers. They also cited a study by the American Lung Association that
showed an employee who smoked could cost a company up to $5,000 a year
more in annual insurance premiums than a nonsmoker.
A Congressional study said that in 1990, the last year for which
figures were available, the direct cost of providing health care to people
with smoking-related diseases had reached nearly $21 billion. And that
did not include nearly $7 billion in lost wages for employees out sick.
"Our goals with this new policy are to move toward becoming a
smoke-free facility," said James A. Blackwell, president of the Lockheed
Aeronautical Systems Company in Marietta. "Accomplishing these goals will
ultimately help lower our costs, improve our competitive position and put
Lockheed in a better position to win new business."
The Marietta plant employs about 11,000 people and makes military
planes like the C-130 Hercules transport and the P-3 Orion for maritime
patrols. Beginning July 2, new employees must sign a statement promising
not to smoke. The ban operates on the honor system and means, in effect,
that new hires cannot light up even at home. Anyone found by a fellow
worker smoking in a bar, restaurant or anyplace else could be dismissed.
The new policy does not affect current employees, who are allowed to
smoke at designated places at the plant and anywhere else on their own
As aggressive as the hiring ban might appear, similar efforts by other
companies have backfired by prompting a stampede of state laws written
specifically to protect smokers against such discrimination. Five years
ago no such laws existed. By last year, 28 states and the District of
Columbia had enacted legislation to protect smokers, and experts say
that initiatives by employers in states that have no smokers' rights law,
like Georgia, could ultimately help get one passed.
Federal statutes protect against discrimination in hiring but for the
broader reasons of race, religion, age and gender.
Once enacted, the state laws generally cause companies to lift the
hiring restriction, as Litho Industries, commercial printers in Research
Triangle Park, N.C., did last year after passage of a law in 1992. But
not always. Four years after Colorado approved a law that protected
smokers, another Lockheed subsidiary, Access Graphics, a computer wholesale
company in Boulder, continues to deny employment to smokers for reasons
a spokeswoman would not explain. One former worker who said he was
dismissed after a colleague spotted him smoking on the street during a
lunch hour last year is suing the company.
"This is blatant discrimination," said Paul Sherer, an accounts manager
who lasted less than a week at Access Graphics. "Not hiring smokers
affects millions of people and puts them in the same category as woman
able to bear children as people who contribute to higher health care
costs. It's unfair."
Further, the hiring bans have been generating widespread criticism,
including some from antismoking activists. The critics contend that the
bans violate the right to privacy and tend to deny jobs to people who may
need them most: Despite a general decline in smoking in the United
States, an increasing number of teen-agers, women and blacks are bucking