Life isn’t easy for smokers in most places as it is, given not only heavy regulations but also significant social stigma — and now in Pima County, Arizona, you can add “potential difficulty in earning a basic living” to the list of smoking drawbacks.
Pima County administrator Chuck Huckelberry issued a memo dated July 25, proposing smokers be exempted from hiring in a new initiative that could begin as soon as next January.
Huckelberry’s memo on hiring smokers specifically addresses the legality of such a decision, and whether it constitutes employment discrimination. According to the Pima County administrator, Arizona is one of more than a dozen states that allows for hiring discrimination against smokers and users of nicotine products, enabling the county to legally discriminate in hiring against those who smoke.
By extension and considering the testing methods used, conceivably ex-smokers using the Patch, Nicorette gum, or electronic cigarettes will also be disqualified from employment with Pima County, as Huckelberry proposes testing for nicotine use overall as a condition of hiring.
AZCentral.com refers to the memo [PDF] sent by Huckelberry, in which he states his belief that the move is a natural extension of Pima County’s “commitment to employee wellness, increased productivity and decreased medical costs.”
The site also points out a somewhat worrisome clause proposed involving testing current employees in Pima County — who may be long-term smokers. The proposed initiative’s effect on current smokers hired well before the anti-smoking policy is suggested to take effect early next year is punitive, as stated in the memo.
According to AZCentral.com, Huckelberry readily admits that 32 percent of Pima County employees currently smoke — and if you count e-cigarettes and other nicotine replacement therapies as well as covert or secret smokers, that estimate is undoubtedly higher.
The site explains:
“Pima County declared its campuses tobacco-free zones in 2013, but the proposed regulations would expand the initiative to include:
– Not hiring smokers for county jobs.
– Testing for nicotine use among current employees.
– Enacting a surcharge on smokers covered by the county health plan.”
“Those who don’t want to take the test, or just want to smoke tobacco, would see a 30 percent increase in their premiums starting July 1, 2015, with a 10 percent increase each year until it reaches a maximum of 50 percent, in alignment with Affordable Care Act guidelines, according to the memo.”
While the Pima County smoker hiring ban is not currently past the proposal stage, Huckelberry says that it could be codified as soon as the fall, taking effect in January. The Pima County administrator believes that the initiative will pass and smokers will face the suggested penalties.