According to an article in the Orlando Sentinel, the city of St. Cloud (Florida) has rescinded its policy of refusing to hire smokers. Two reasons were provided for this decision. First, the policy was not effective in reducing health insurance costs for the city. Second, the city was unable to recruit enough qualified applicants for employment, especially in the police force. The policy was putting too much of a crimp in its ability to recruit qualified applicants.
After initially enacting a ban on smokers working for the city in 2002, St. Cloud later changed the policy to allow hiring of smokers, but the smokers had to promise to quit within one year, and if they failed, they were fired. This apparently did not help the city recruit qualified workers, as smokers were not interested in accepting a job under these terms. Unable to effectively recruit a qualified work force, the entire policy has now been revoked.
St. Cloud now becomes the second city in Florida to rescind a smoker-free hiring policy. The city of North Miami revoked its ban on smokers in 2003 after also failing to observe any health insurance savings and being hampered in its ability to recruit qualified applicants for city jobs.
According to the article: "What seemed to many like a good idea several years ago has gone up in smoke. St. Cloud's ban on hiring employees who use tobacco, which was enacted in 2002, has been revoked by the City Council. 'Number one, it never did do what it was supposed to do -- help on insurance,' City Manager Tom Hurt said. 'And, it put a cramp on hiring.' With more jobs to fill as the city grows, there was a shrinking pool of workers to fill the jobs. Osceola's unemployment rate for the 12 months ending in April was 2.6 percent, substantially lower than the national average of 4.5 percent. 'We had certified operators that wanted to work for us, and then they found out they had to be a nonsmoker for a year,' said Robert MacKichan, public works director. His department employees about 100 workers and has 12 to 15 vacancies, he said. At one point the city loosened its policy by agreeing to hire smokers if they promised to stop. 'No one wants to take a job on the pretense they will be able to stop, not knowing if they will. In a year, if they're not smoke-free, they're [fired].'"
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It's interesting that the smoker-free hiring policy had no effect on reducing health care costs for the city. But even if it were effective in reducing costs, this was still a wise decision by the city to end its employment discrimination against its smoking citizens.
It's no surprise that the city was unable to effectively recruit a qualified work force when it eliminated smokers from the pool of potential applicants. When you throw out 20-25% of the population to begin with, you are going to have a lot more difficult time recruiting an effective work force.
And this fact helps to illustrate just why these policies are so discriminatory. Clearly, they do not have anything to do with the qualifications of applicants for employment. The policy is not helping to make sure that workers are well-qualified for employment; instead, it is hindering the employer's ability to identify and hire qualified individuals.
Hopefully, this announcement by St. Cloud will put a bit of a damper on the trend of increasing smoker-free hiring policies.
And I hope that it also deters us in the tobacco control movement from promoting these discriminatory policies. There is enough discrimination going on. We as a tobacco control movement don't need to add to the problem.