Is refusing to hire smokers fair?

Hospitals in some states are turning away job-seeking smokers to cut health and insurance costs. Is that discrimination?

Some hospitals have begun disqualifying job applicants who smoke.
(Image credit: Corbis)

Smokers are already shunned in many restaurants, bars, and public spaces — now the habit could cost them a shot at a job. Hospitals and medical businesses in many states are adopting strict policies that make smoking an acceptable reason to reject would-be employees, reports The New York Times. Critics say the policies are unfair, but companies argue that they need to reduce health and insurance costs associated with smoking. Are these businesses guilty of discrimination? (Watch a discussion about the controversy)

Turning away smokers is wrong: "No question: Smoking is a terrible habit," says Daniel O'Connor at But smokers aren't bad people, or bad workers — in fact, a recent study suggests "smoking actually increases cognitive functioning." Plus, if we're going to use hiring bans to encourage healthier living, why not target obesity, another killer, by turning away fast-food junkies? "Smokers have suffered enough for their cigarettes," so let's stop demonizing them.

"Cost of smoking: You're fired"

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Employers have rights, too: People should be free to smoke, says Jacob Sullum in AOL News, and employers "should be free to hire employees based on whatever criteria make sense to them." The unfair thing is crying discrimination to get the government to barge in and tell businesses what to do. "A smoker or fat guy turned away by one employer can always look for work elsewhere," but there's no way to escape "the state's paternalism."

"Why not discriminate against smokers?"

Who's next — the poor and elderly? Getting smokers off the payroll "may save a buck or two," says Erika Stutzman in the Daily Camera, but so would discriminating against the poor, elderly and those with genetic disorders — all of whom "cost more to insure." Discrimination is wrong, no matter the target or reason. The bottom line is that your "perfectly legal private life" is none of your boss' business, as long as it doesn't affect your work.

"Still unhealthy, still legal"

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