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put down that cigarette

Arizona county proposes placing a hiring ban on smokers

As healthcare costs escalate and local governments look to save money, Pima County (home to Tucson) is leading the way by considering a controversial proposal that would affect roughly one-third of the county's 2,000 current employees who use tobacco, Fox News reports.

Pima reportedly spends more than $13 million annually on health insurance costs, and is looking to save an estimated $1 million annually by banning the hire of smokers and imposing a 30 percent surcharge on current employees who smoke. The county is also considering an alternate $90-a-month charge to new hires who smoke.

While some argue that the proposal amounts to employee discrimination, others say it's only fair that those who participate in the destructive habit take responsibility. Many are also wondering about what precedent such a law would set.

Michael Siegel, a Boston University public health professor who advocates for smoke-free workplaces, said in an interview with the Arizona Star that the ban is a "slippery slope" that could lead employers to restrict the hiring of people who are obese or have other medical problems that increase overall healthcare expenses.

The county board of supervisors is scheduled to vote on the measure Tuesday, but may delay until February of next year so they can review next year's insurance rates.