Help Wanted. No Smokers Need Apply: A New Marketplace Podcast

(Photo: Julie Bocchino)

Our latest podcast is called “Help Wanted. No Smokers Need Apply.”  (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript.)

In many states (21, to be precise), it is perfectly legal for an employer to not hire someone who smokes. This might seem understandable, given that health insurance is often coupled to employment, and since healthcare risks and costs are increasingly pooled. And so: if employers can exclude smokers, should they also be able to weed out junk-food lovers or motorcyclists — or perhaps anyone who wants to have a baby?

That question is the thrust of this podcast, which features a conversation with Zeke Emanuel. He is a Penn medical professor/bioethicist; a former White House healthcare adviser; the author of Healthcare, Guaranteed (and Brothers Emanuel, about growing up with Rahm and Ari); and a coauthor, with Harald Schmidt and Kristin Voigt, of a recent New England Journal of Medical article (previewed on our blog) called “The Ethics of Not Hiring Smokers”:

EMANUEL: I’m a cancer doctor. I find smoking disgusting. I find smoking horrible. I wish that everyone who did it could quit. But I also recognize that it’s not voluntary, that most people start before they’re adults and that it’s incredibly hard to quit once you’ve started.”

Emanuel also appeared in an earlier Freakonomics podcast, “Is the Obesity Epidemic for Real?” In this podcast, he argues that not hiring smokers lies somewhere between discriminatory and unethical. Give us a listen and let us know your thoughts.

Audio Transcript

Kai RYSSDAL: Time now for a little Freakonomics Radio.  It’s that moment every couple of weeks we talk to Stephen Dubner, the co-author of the books and blog of the same name.  It is “the hidden side of everything.”  Dubner, long time, no talk, man!

 

Stephen J. DUBNER: Great to be back, Kai.  Thanks for having me.  I know you trained as a Navy pilot -- I wonder if you ever thought about afterward working as a commercial pilot?  Was that ever a plan?

 

RYSSDAL: No, not really.  That was never my thing.

 

DUBNER: Well, if you had, and if you had interviewed with, let’s say, Alaska Airlines, there’s something you would have needed to know. Here’s airline spokesperson Marianne Lindsey:

 

Marianne LINDSEY:  “In general, there’s a question that’s asked, ‘have you smoked or used tobacco products within the last six months?’  And we go by how the employee responds to that question.  And then, before they’re hired, they have a drug test that they take that detects nicotine use.

 

RYSSDAL: So Alaska Airlines would not hire me, were I a smoker.  Yes?

 

DUBNER: Alaska Airlines would not hire you if you were a smoker.  Now, they’ve had this policy for quite a few years.  And more and more companies now are refusing to hire anyone who uses tobacco -- a lot of healthcare firms, especially, and hospitals.

 

RYSSDAL: This has to be about cutting healthcare costs, right?

 

DUBNER: That’s a primary reason, for sure. Smokers are more expensive than non-smokers, if you’re the company.  By one estimate, about $4,000 a year more in terms of healthcare and lost productivity and so on. But there’s also the idea that you want to make every workplace healthier, which means smoke-free seems to be a good idea there.

 

RYSSDAL: Right, OK.  That makes sense.  Question number two, though, Dubner, is this: Last time I checked, smoking is legal, man.

 

DUBNER: Yes it is.  So, as it turns out, in terms of the legality of hiring smokers: 29 states have passed laws that don’t let companies turn down smokers, but the other 21 states do allow you to do that.  So if I’m a company in New York or North Carolina or California, I cannot reject an employee because he or she smokes. But if I run a company in Pennsylvania or Florida or Alaska, I can. So that’s a pretty severe split – which recently led to a piece in the New England Journal of Medicine about the ethics of not hiring smokers. Here’s one of the authors, Zeke Emanuel, who is a bioethicist and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

 

Ezekiel EMANUEL: “I’m a cancer doctor. I find smoking disgusting. I find smoking horrible. I wish that everyone who did it could quit.”

 

DUBNER: All right.  So it’s not hard to think that he’s in favor of not hiring smokers. Right?  But wait, there’s more:

 

EMANUEL: “But I also recognize that it’s not voluntary, that most people start before they’re adults and that it’s incredibly hard to quit once you’ve started.

 

RYSSDAL: OK, wait.  “Not voluntary?”  I mean, Zeke Emanuel is a smart guy and all, but huh?

 

DUBNER: That is really the basis of his argument – which is that most smokers want to quit, but can’t, and to refuse to hire them is therefore discriminatory or at least unethical.

 

RYSSDAL: Does this break down on socioeconomic lines?  Is there a low-income, low-wage worker versus high-wage, high-income person thing?

 

DUBNER: Yeah, that’s a great question.  So low-income people are substantially more likely to smoke than high-income people across the board. So, if you’re a low-income smoker and now can’t get a job because you smoke, it’s sort of a double jeopardy. But there’s also the fact that smoking is one of those activities – legal, as you noted, but publicly frowned upon – that seems to open a bigger can of worms in terms of hiring. Here’s Emanuel again:

 

EMANUEL: “Once you’re on this kick, you can say, ‘Look at those Seventh Day Adventists!  They’re the people we really want to employ because those guys -- they don’t smoke, they don’t drink, they eat very healthy, they don’t engage in high-risk sporting activities.’ That just seems to me exactly where we don’t want to be going

 

DUBNER: So Kai, you can imagine a future where nobody wants to hire anybody who does anything at all risky.  Maybe not even risky, but just expensive -- like becoming pregnant and having kids. Because, as we all increasingly share healthcare costs, that means that you increasingly are thinking about what I do because it affects what you’ll pay in insurance and taxes. In the case of smoking, it’s really all about the incentives.  In a tough labor market like ours, will it turn out to be that getting a job is a such a strong incentive that it might help a smoker who has tried everything, but everything else else has failed? I have no idea if that will work, but it will sure be worth keeping an eye on.

 

RYSSDAL: Stephen Dubner.  Freakonomics.com is the web site.  Stephen, we’ll see you in a couple of weeks.

Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

 

COMMENTS: 59


  1. Iljitsch van Beijnum says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Disliked! Like or Dislike: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 24
    • Rusty Shackleford says:

      The same way existing drinkers will all die from cirrhosis and never be replaced. I find smoking a far less disgusting habit than hiring practices based mostly on a sense of moral superiority instead of merit.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 38 Thumb down 9
    • ERLW says:

      I’ve never observed a lack of sound judgement from my colleagues who smoke (other than the fact they smoke…); I appreciate that’s just anecdotal evidence, but it strikes me that there are a myriad of ways that we all regularly demonstrate unsound judgement in our daily lives. Like burning the toast, crossing the street without looking both ways, telling the girlfriend “It’ll just be one beer with the lads”… none of which would be relevant during a job interview. And I’m still not convinced smoking is a problem when recruiting unless (a) working with kids or (b) a demonstrable reason the smoker can’t do the job i.e. working in a “clean” room.

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    • Julien Couvreur says:

      As much as I dislike smoking, I don’t agree that it displays unsound judgement. Instead I recognize and respect individuals’ preferences.

      I don’t think the primary reason for this hiring policy is because of evaluation of the applicants skills, but rather because of the economic incentives of healthcare burden in current system (as this podcast claims).

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  2. Pedro Albuquerque says:

    I smoke Habanos with great pleasure and have never been addicted. In fact, right now I haven’t smoke for ten days because of a cold. Cigars are great with espresso coffee and Porto wine. Smoking a good cigar is a high point of my day.
    I’m also an ethical vegetarian, exercise, have ideal BMI, and have excellent health for my age.
    So let’s exchange it for a while: companies stop worrying about smokers (after all there aren’t many of us these days) and go face the real problem: getting rid of carnivores, right away!
    Or maybe you would prefer a truce: keep your greasy hands out of my cigars, and I promise you that I’ll keep my smoky hands out of your steaks.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 16 Thumb down 12
  3. Mark Jean says:

    “Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes. A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.” ~ Abraham Lincoln December, 1840

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 4
  4. Eric M. Jones says:

    A perfect example of the argument by “False Equivalence”.

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  5. Al says:

    An employer should be able to hire whoever they want for any reason. This is the basis of a free society with voluntary interactions. An employer will ultimately hire someone for the value they provide regardless of behavior as long as it is morally neutral like smoking. Anytime a law or regulation is introduced, we have allowed another element of coercion and force into our lives.

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    • Rusty Shackleford says:

      Assuming perfectly rational hiring practices, perhaps. Turning down potential employees based solely on whether or not they smoke is irrational, but unlikely to cause enough harm to the company for it to change its policy. A problem that won’t self-correct seems to be a good reason to regulate.

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      • Enter your name... says:

        But they’re not actually “turning down potential employees based solely on whether or not they smoke”. It’s not like they’re saying “I need to hire 12 people, and here are the only 12 qualified candidates… Oops, he’s a smoker, so I guess I can’t fill that last slot.”

        They’re actually saying, “I need to hire 12 people, and here are hundreds of qualified candidates… How can I make this pile of applications smaller, and ideally get employees who cost less overall and miss fewer days of work into the bargain?”

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      • Bri says:

        @Enter your name
        I question whether you listened to the podcast or not because your example isn’t even remotely similar to what’s happening. The company is actually doing drug testing for nicotine as a basis for employment. Not to mention if you are asking someone whether they smoke or are a smoker you’re already in the interview stage. Usually people don’t put that info on their resume.

        And btw, in your example substitute “smoker” with “person in a wheelchair” and you’ve now just broken the law.

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      • Al says:

        Rational or irrational, it is the employer’s freedom to choose and decide how to run their business. Are you saying that business owners don’t know what’s in their best self interest and that the State always knows best?

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      • Babbo says:

        @Al:
        That’s a false choice. Business owners may know what’s best in their own self interest, but left completely to their own devices, business owners will discriminate in hiring on the basis of things like race, gender, age and religion, which we have weighed the costs of as a society and imposed regulations on. The balancing act of business owner vs state is already there. Tobacco use and employee health are just new criteria to consider as the labor market evolves.

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      • ERLW says:

        @enter your name

        Do you have any data to back up your quote that smokers miss more days of work? Not contesting it, just interested.

        My (anecdotal) observation of colleagues suggests there is no correlation. Certainly the ones who seem to take consistent and long sick leave aren’t smokers.

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      • Al says:

        @Babbo
        Could you please explain “we have weighed the costs of as a society” in more detail please? I’m not sure I understand what you mean.

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      • Enter your name... says:

        Bri, when you publicize your ‘we don’t hire smokers’ policy, you’ve effectively reduced your application pile.

        ERLW, the podcast says “Smokers are more expensive than non-smokers, if you’re the company. By one estimate, about $4,000 a year more in terms of healthcare and lost productivity and so on.” Lost productivity isn’t just taking a ten-minute smoke break several times a day. It was generally accepted in HR back when I worked in that field that smokers take one sick day per year more than non-smokers. You could look at medical studies like http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15694961 for more current information.

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      • belsha says:

        It’s amusing that “Enter your name”, to proove that smokers do cost more healthcare and take more sick days of, links to a study that he apparently hasn’t read (apart from the headline or the conclusion), because the study is so absurd, that he wouldn’t have endorsed it had he read it:

        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15694961

        While the study shows that in the tiny sample of 292 health-care workers in Teneriffa, smokers did indeed take more sick days of, they also didn’t find any correlation with respiratory diseases (which could be smoking related), but only with “back pain”, which obviously has no relation — be it causal or only correlational — with smoking at all. So this is probably a statistical fluke due to the very small sample size, or perhaps there is some reason why people who smoke also happen to be people that take – possibly unwarranted – sick leaves because of “back pain” (in my opinion, it could actually be true that smokers take more sick leaves, considering that a huge proportion of mentally ill people smoke. Sick leaves for depression and anxiety thus would be much more common in smokers, but the cause would not be the smoking, rather the depression and anxiety would be the common cause of both the smoking and the sick leaves).

        This does not deter the authors from concluding: “Smoking is associated with a higher risk of sickness absence among healthcare workers, particularly due to back pain. This could be used as an incentive to persuade healthcare workers to stop smoking and re-inforce the non-smoking message given to their patients.”

        It clearly doesn’t matter to them that there is no association between smoking and the ailment this people take sickness absence. The only thing that matters to them is that their “study” might encourage heath care workers to stop smoking and thus “re-inforce” the “non-smoking message”.

        The problem with so many claims of tobacco control is that it is based on so incredibly shoddy science, who’s only aim is to amplify a message to change behaviour.

        So, sorry “Enter your name”, to convince me that smokers in working age take more sick leaves, you better link to some more convincing studies.

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  6. Carol Denney says:

    Great piece! But one crucial element was left out — smokers, unlike women, or members of an ethnic group, are NOT a protected class. Quitting may be difficult, but people do it all the time and it can be done.

    Your piece seemed to equate discrimination against women for potential pregnancy with “discrimination” against smokers, and it is not legally possible because smokers can become nonsmokers a lot more easily than the rest of us can change race, gender, or turn in our cardiovascular systems for something that can tolerate secondhand smoke. Thanks,

    Carol Denney

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 14
    • Byung Kyu Park says:

      If the pregnancy example is a bad one, what about hiring practices against people who are obese? Or hiring practices against people who cannot work, for example, Friday evenings (usually for religious reasons)?

      Fat people can become thin; Orthodox Jews can convert to another religion (or just stop practicing).

      The real question is should there really be *any* categorical description (that doesn’t imply law-breaking) that preemptively disqualifies a person from a job—especially when that category doesn’t relate to job performance?

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      • Enter your name... says:

        Except that smoking *does* relate to job performance, since the podcast says smokers cost the company $4,000 a year in lost productivity and higher costs compared to non-smokers. “Lost productivity” means “worse job performance”.

        Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0
      • Bri says:

        @Enter your name,

        That stat was taken out of context. They didn’t explain where the number came from or what caused it.

        I’ve seen numerous studies that show that lifetime healthcare costs for smokers are less than non-smokers, mostly because they simply die early. Whether this has any effect on a company’s bottom line is another question. I’m sure they’re more interested in the short term gains, but having an employee just die at 50, for example, would seem to me to be fairly detrimental to overall costs.

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    • ERLW says:

      But why should they have to quit?

      It’s legal (isn’t it?).

      Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1
  7. Janice Koch says:

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    • Brian says:

      Except that you have now backed yourself into a discrimination corner. Why discriminate against nicotine drug use vs caffeine drug use. As long as you can do your job, what you do at home is your own business.

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      • Pshrnk says:

        Caffeine does not have the same effects on alergy sufferers around you. In fact I would argue it is a reasonable accomadation for my asthma that smokers be kept away from my work place.

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  8. Babbo says:

    I can see both sides of this argument in the immediate employment context, and both sides have legitimate points. However, in the broader, macroeconomic context of employment, health and healthcare reform, I worry that normalization of these kinds of hiring policies could effectively act as a wedge to further marginalize the underclass and exclude them from the kind of assistance the Affordable Care Act is meant to provide. The sanctimonious way some Americans have taken to scapegoating sick and unhealthy Americans for problems with our healthcare system in recent years concerns me tremendously, and as part of health care reform I think it’s only fair to have this conversation and consider the ramifications if employers are allowed to discriminate in their hiring practices based on employee health.

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  9. Barman says:

    Smoking, in the privacy of my own room is exercising my choice of freedom. Just like that, if I own a business or I am the recruiter on behalf of a company, hiring specifically the smokers or specifically the non-smokers or taking my hiring decision without caring about smoking habit is my freedom. So I don’t think it’s any way unethical if I don’t hire smokers. After all, given my manpower requirement, for every smoker I turn down, I will hire a non-smoker. So it’s not even like there is a job loss or something. Just that I am taking the best decision for my own business according to my knowledge and belief. Why should someone regulate that? And if all the businesses start similar practice? That will lower the salary expectation of smokers and will give further incentive to hire smokers. So give freedom to the businesses, the system will keep the balance by itself.

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    • Babbo says:

      When you ask why someone should regulate your decision making as a business owner, and specifically mention your knowledge, and particularly “beliefs”, I get the impression that you must be a relative newcomer to the Freakonomics universe? Knowledge is by definition limited, beliefs are at best flawed, and your decisions as a business owner have measurable costs on the world around you. If you discriminate against a definable group of people based on their health when you make hiring decisions, you contribute to a hidden problem of employment and health in your community, and exploring the hidden side of economic calculus is what Freakonomics is all about. Your ideological devotion to freedom is fine, but this is a podcast about data, not ideology.

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      • Al says:

        First, there is no obligation to the “community.” Each individual in their respective location will do what’s in their best self interest in a free and voluntary society. If they feel that their community is failing, they will act in a way to better it. Next, freedom is not an ideology but the natural state of man. Only force, oppression, and propaganda have led you to believe that freedom is some extreme political view. If you want to talk data, just look throughout human history and the empirical evidence shows that more freedom has led to the greatest breakthroughs and achievements for humankind. Lastly, as it relates to this forum, I’d say that truth trumps any kind of subjective topic on any forum. It doesn’t matter who knows what about Freakonomics as long as they speak the truth.

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      • Babbo says:

        @Al:
        The Freakonomics team has spent years and gone to great lengths to bring the hidden side of complicated economic issues like this one to light. We can argue all day about what constitute “the greatest breakthroughs and achievements for humankind”, but don’t you think it serves both of us better to listen a little more and talk a little less, and appreciate the hard work these guys do to comb the data and present rational conclusions to economic problems?

        That being said: “The community” is the marketplace in which businesses perform their services and make their money. Businesses can and do make decisions in their own self-interest which have significant and measurable costs to society and the marketplace as a whole, which is why we have laws (relatively recent ones mind you) forbidding practices like child labor and race/gender discrimination, which in the not-too-distant past were left to the discretion of, and abused by, the collective practices of business owners of the period, at considerable cost to the health and welfare of American families. I can’t recommend strongly enough, brushing up on Chapter 5 of Superfreakonomics, specifically in reference to negative externalities, to better appreciate why freedom and self interest are not the be-all end-all of economic decisionmaking.

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    • ERLW says:

      If you replaced “smoker” with any other subset of society who aren’t (necessarily) breaking the law (e.g. women, Irish, the bald) do you still stand by it? If so, fair enough; you certainly make some good points, and I do agree that somethings in life do not need to be regulated (as customers and potential employees will vote “with their feet”). If however you do not still stand by it, and feel smokers to be different, then surely your argument is to ban smoking, not ban smokers from being hired.

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  10. Brian says:

    Just listened to this podcast, another good one!

    I just wanted to clarify a very key distinction in this whole debate. People seem to conflate the terms tobacco use vs smoker, but they are potentially very different. When my company implemented an insurance fee for smoking the insurance company made it very clear that it was for tobacco use, but the HR employees kept saying the term smoker. A smoker is a habitual user, whereby one could use tobacco products in a responsible manner. For instance, I personally smoke about 5 cigars a year. Basically a number so low that it would probably be impossible to say it has any deleterious health effects. At the very least, the health effects would pale in comparison to something like air pollution. However, I would be considered to be in violation of the policy for use of even 1 tobacco product.

    I’m all for weening smokers (a habitual action) off of their pack or more a day habit, but when you start to regulate ALL tobacco products then that’s a discriminatory action. I’d also like to see in a future episode a comparison of total lifetime health care costs to insurance companies for smokers vs non-smokers. I’ve seen arguments for both sides of the debate and I know where I stand on the issue, but I’d always be curious to hear another take.

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  11. Barman says:

    Seems like my previous post created some confusion. I didn’t try to defend smokers, or to defend those not hiring smokers. I tried to defend the freedom to smoke and the freedom to hire someone based on whatever criteria I want. I think it’s time to appropriately define the word ‘freedom’ here. No matter how much I fight against discrimination, freedom is also important. That’s why I am saying the employer should have his/her freedom to choose people. You smoke in your private time, that’s your affair. But to hire you or not based on whatever criteria I want is my call. I am not telling you to quit smoking, I am telling I can’t hire you and go to someone else. Don’t say that smokers got a right to force managers to hire them to prove that they are not discriminating. Did I make it clear?

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  12. Peter says:

    I think it’s a fantastic idea to exclude candidates who don’t fit your ideal employee in terms of personality and habits. For example, if you’re hiring for a technology firm you may make it a point to not hire people who don’t use smartphones or have wifi in their home.

    If you’re hiring for a fitness gym and you make it a point to not hire people who have little interest in healthy or active habits, even though they work behind a desk, I think that’s okay.

    Let’s take a lesson from the Freakonomics books. Just as the kinds of people who have lots of books in their home have kids who are more likely to enjoy reading I would not want to hire the kinds of people who smoke cigarettes everyday. That kind of person has somewhat of an addictive personality, takes frequent breaks throughout the day to leave the building, in unable to break an obvious bad habit, and is not conscious of their spending habits.

    If someone smokes socially or once in a while then I wouldn’t pay attention to that, but someone who always has a pack of cigarettes on them is not someone I would want to work with.

    All this being said, I would certainly not discriminate because of racial background, gender or ethnicity. In many situations I think discrimination is valid for certain religious beliefs, but since that’s illegal, I would shy away from being openly discriminatory about it.

    Also, since workplaces can administer drug tests, why can’t they discriminate for cigarettes, seems along the same line to me. Asking someone if they are a pothead/alcoholic/chain smoker is out of line, but there’s likely a formal way to do it.

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  13. jane says:

    It would be fine not to hire people we don’t like – if different employers did not like various groups randomly and evenly. So that some positions are not available to smokers, some – to bike riders, and some – to women of childbearing age. Overall, everyone on the market would still have access to the vast majority of positions, if not at one company, than at another.

    Unfortunately, our society has popular stereotypes stigmatizing just certain minority groups – smokers, women, people with tattoos, gays, etc. These groups get disproportionate amount discrimination, and severely limited opportunities because of that. That’s not fair. It takes a government and a legal system to fix that unfairness.

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    • James says:

      Why is it unfair to discriminate on things like smoking & tattoos, that are purely a matter of choice? People choose to do these things, even though they know they are likely to experience discrimination as a consequence.

      So how is this different from the discrimination I experienced in a long-ago job, because I chose not to go drinking after work with the department VP and his clique?

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      • Babbo says:

        @James
        I think that’s a fair question to ask as we have this conversation as a society. I also think, though, that considerations like smoking and obesity (also discussed in the podcast) are a world apart from some other considerations like tattoos or whom you drink with after work, specifically because of their involvement in the new world of health care, which Obama’s Affordable Care Act has turned employers into gatekeepers of. If employers collectively shift their hiring practices to favor of the healthiest people, they effectively bar unhealthy people not only from health care, but from employment as well, imposing even greater external costs on other social institutions than the current health care situation already burdens the country with.

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  14. Evan S says:

    My employer gives us the option to take a test on whether or not we are a smoker. If we are not and pass the test, we get our healthcare costs discounted.
    -ES

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  15. John Dolan-Heitlinger says:

    Just as I don’t think that the government should tell people where they can or cannot work, I don’t think that the government should tell people who they can or cannot hire and for what reasons. The hiring decision should be freely negotiated between the potential employer and the potential employee. If governments chooses to impose discrimination or quota rules on their own hiring processes that is up to those elected to create and approve civil service rules.

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  16. Notjustahatrack says:

    Hire smokers, fat people, the clumsy, etc. and exclude them from your medical plan. They will probably be pretty old before they are too sick to work and it will be time to replace them anyway.

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  17. Pshrnk says:

    A point missed by many of these “don’t you dare be judgmental” type posts is that social disapproval is a powerful deterrent to behavior. Not hiring smokers increases the cost of a behavior. Increasing the cost of smoking decreases the number of young people who will try this horribly addictive substance. We owe it to our grandchildren, great grandchildren etcetera to increase the cost of smoking to save many of them from this addiction. It is moral to increase the cost of smoking for the benefit of future generations.

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    • chris says:

      They’ve tried that with sex, alcohol and other drugs and soon it’s to be done with food. It doesn’t work. Funny thing about people–they don’t like to be told what to do, especially in putatively free societies. Too bad they haven’t invented a time machine yet: you could go back to 17th century Massachusetts with the rest of the Puritans.

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  18. gkb says:

    I often see smokers (almost always in a group) gathered outside the office for a smoke. Assuming 4 smoke breaks a day at 15 minutes each (get up, go outside, light up, chat, come back, start again) I would estimate that each loses almost an hour a day to the habit. Unless they consistently work longer than non-smokers I would prefer to employ those people who don’t require more frequent breaks for productivity reasons, let alone worrying about insurance costs.

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    • Bri says:

      That’s a management problem not a smoking problem. If you can’t manage your employees maybe you’re the one that shouldn’t have a job. Many companies now have a no tobacco policy on their property, solves the problem pretty quickly.

      You’re also the perfect example of why certain forms of discrimination are illegal. By your own admission you’re prejudice against people who smoke because you assume that they all waste time taking smoking breaks. In reality though, your casual observations are a poor indicator of behaviors of the tobacco using population as a whole.

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      • Pshrnk says:

        Would you please cite a study to back your last sentence.

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      • Bri says:

        @Pshrnk
        If you make a claim the burden of proof is upon the person making the claim, not on me! Also it’s called the scientific method, casual observations do not equate to a scientific study. You can’t observe 20 people and then proclaim that all traits of that subtype apply to all subtypes.

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    • chris says:

      Anyplace I’ve worked where smokers get smoke breaks, everyone gets similar short breaks to do whatever floats their particular boat. Smokers don’t get special treatment (at least not special positive treatment) or certain nonsmokers would scream bloody murder. Right?

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  19. corky says:

    I think it is more than just the health care costs that employers are looking at. As one other commenter noted, smokers take multiple smoking breaks during the day, which now usually requires that they go outside (the hospital where I work requires that they go outside and off of the property) which means at least a 15-20 minute break several times a day. And then they come back into the building reeking of smoke and sharing the secondhand fumes with their co-workers ( and yes I would complain about people who douse themselves in perfume the same way). in addition, in my observation of smokers around our building, they tend to toss the butts where they are smoking or on the way back into the building, leading to clean-up costs for the business owners (what business wants the walkway into their business littered with cigarette butts?). So there are costs, in time, clean-up, and co-worker comfort that need to be taken into account. And as for the airline, what airline wants its pilots or flight attendants jonesing for a cigarette while they are flying the plane or attending to customers?

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  20. Jerry S says:

    I’m struck by the fact that in the podcast, there is an objection on the grounds that it’s not the fault of smokers. Why is fault the criteria? A lot of companies don’t hire people without college diplomas and yet it’s not always their fault they couldn’t go to college. Should the NBA hire a talented player who is 5’5″ tall? It’s not his fault.

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    • Byung Kyu Park says:

      Because those things are job-specific—and specifically applies to the job performance—while the no-smoking criterion isn’t really job-specific or apply to job performance in most cases (healthcare, childcare, etc. excluded, of course), at least not in a direct, causal way, not just mere statistical correlation.

      Employers looking for truck drivers can insist that their employees be licensed to drive a truck—regardless of “fault” criterion. But it would silly for these employers to have “those under 6′ need not apply” criterion—or to make it a little more relevant to the topic, how would you feel if employers routinely checked a potential employees’ medical records (for chronic back problems, etc.) and discriminated against those with chronic health issues, even if minor—that’s where “fault” criterion makes a little sense; if it’s something that a person does to himself of his own free will, well, it’s his own damn fault, but if it’s something that happens to a person (like bad sight, bad back, etc.) there is some basis for sympathy and reasonable accommodation.

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  21. chris says:

    Couldn’t they have found someone better to speak for smokers than Zeke Emanuel? There are plenty of smokers’ rights advocates (and advocates for privacy and individual freedom in general) out there without having to resort to someone who finds smoking disgusting and smokers to be mindless zombies who have no agency or free will.

    I started smoking because it was “cool” and for years I kept it up as a vice I didn’t love as much as others. Now that there’s this dimestore jihad against it, I’ve never enjoyed it more. This was my first time listening. I was disappointed to discover how crushingly mainstream it was.

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  22. jaspreet says:

    My favorite compliment so far after one of Lonnie’s cuts

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  23. Julien Couvreur says:

    This is a beautiful (but sad) illustration of Mises observation that intervention begets more intervention.
    Here’s a simplified story:
    1) you start by inflating money during WWII, and apply wage control to fix some of its effects,
    2) employers start using non-wage benefits to get around wage control,
    3) such benefits (medical benefits in particular) get ta advantages as part of other wellfare interventions,
    4) the healthcare industry starts shifting to insurance and especially group insurance tied to employment,
    5) prices go up (increasing the need for insurance) and most healthy people opt-out (selection effects which raise prices more) so you decide to force people to participate in insurance model,
    6) in addition to raising premiums for all, insurances try to find ways around the bundling of individuals of varying risks into same insurance groups,
    7) so you decide to forbid some forms of rational discrimination (and also considering pre-existing conditions for people switching jobs and therefore insurance providers),
    8) because premiums go up on employers they also try to apply rational discrimination (don’t hire smokers or pay them less),
    9) and so on.

    This is where initial interventions lead us. At the root, the tax benefits for employer-provided healthcare and other wellfare interventions shift the model to group coverage instead of individual healthcare and healthcare insurance. With regular insurance, people in similar risk groups pay similar premiums, in particular for risks which the individual can control (smoking, riding motorcycles, …).
    Some individuals pay higher premium (but can still have jobs) which incidentally gives them incremental incentives to stop risky behaviors. But loosing access to a job is not incremental, as it is much larger than the extra premium to pay for this behavior (4000$ according to the podcast).
    But instead, such individuals now either have a harder time getting a job or they shift their healthcare cost onto their healthier peers.
    Another likely outcome is so-called death panels (committees deciding to refuse treatment based on some rationing criteria), again because we don’t let riskier individuals pay more and we force those costs onto their healthier peers.
    This is a broken system all around which emerged largely from a number of unintended political consequences.

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  24. Blake Freeman says:

    I feel that this is right and wrong. it is right in my opinion because of the health risks and the rising costs of healthcare. but what isnt right is that if they dont hire a worker because they want to have a baby or they drive a certain type of vehicle.

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  25. Jordan says:

    I don’t really like the idea of employers rejecting smokers at the door, but it should be, as you put it, perfectly legal—indeed, it should be legal for employers to reject people upon any grounds they choose. It’s their right. But realize that defending someone’s right is not the same as defending the actions they take exercising that right. Nonetheless, what is surely not okay is for some power to tell employers what reasons they can and cannot consider when hiring. Is it okay to tell consumers what reasons they can and cannot use when choosing where to shop?

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