A policy pursued by hospitals, airlines and other companies in the U.S. allows employers to not hire a worker because he or she smokes.
Some employers say smoking interferes with tasks. For others, the policy is an easy way to avoid higher health care costs. Some employers say they hope their policy will help curb smoking. The nation is divided over the idea. Twenty-nine states prohibit employers from avoiding smokers, 21 don’t.
This month, smokers got some backing from an unlikely source, Ezekiel Emanuel, a physician and bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania.
“I’m a cancer doctor. I find smoking disgusting. I find smoking horrible. I wish that everyone who did it could quit,” says 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.”
Emanuel argues that penalties against smokers shouldn’t extend to the workplace, especially in organizations like hospitals and health plans, where caring is at the core of their mission.
Emanuel also thinks the policies open a dangerous door. “Once you’re on this kick, you can say, ‘Look, 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.”
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