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More U.S. workplaces are choosing not to hire smokers

There used to be a time in Florida when it was acceptable and commonplace to smoke in almost any building, including the office. In recent decades, more businesses have gone smoke-free and pushed smokers outdoors.

Now, an increasing number of companies in Florida and across the U.S. may be banning smokers themselves. And since smokers are not considered a federally protected class, they may not be covered under anti-employment-discrimination laws such as those which prohibit race or gender discrimination.

Fewer companies are choosing to hire smokers, and urine tests which screen for nicotine use are becoming more commonplace as a prerequisite for employment. One supporter of smoker hiring bans insists that this policy makes sense from a business perspective. She notes that tobacco users have annual health care costs that are $3,000 to $4,000 higher than non-users. And because smokers tend to take more breaks, she adds, "There's also an impact on productivity."

But there are certainly those who oppose such bans, including people who don't smoke. A Boston University professor affiliated with its School of Public Heath has recently insisted that, "These policies represent employment discrimination. It's a very dangerous precedent."

Over the half the states in the country seem to agree with that sentiment. Smoker-protection laws have been passed in the District of Columbia and 29 states. Florida is not among them.

Smoking has become more controversial in recent decades. And as more Americans kick the habit, those who choose to keep smoking will likely feel increasingly marginalized and vilified.

But as long as smoking itself remains legal, can we really justify using it as a basis for employment discrimination? It may be an unhealthy lifestyle, but the same could be said for things like obesity and caffeine addiction. Will smoker discrimination open the door for other types of workplace discrimination?

Source: USA Today, "Workplaces ban not only smoking, but smokers themselves," Wendy Koch, Jan. 6, 2012

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