Volusia County (Florida) has announced a new policy: smokers will no longer be eligible for employment in the County Sheriff's Office or in the county's beach patrol or corrections division.
According to an article in the Orlando Sentinel: "All new deputies at the Volusia County Sheriff's Office must be nonsmokers who can pass a physical-abilities test, according to a contract approved at Thursday's County Council meeting. New employees of the county's Beach Patrol and division of corrections, who are not part of a union, will be held to the same standard, County Manager Jim Dinneen said. 'If we don't do this as a government, I think it would be irresponsible,' Dinneen said, adding that he would like to implement programs to discourage other county employees from smoking and eventually ban employees from smoking on county premises."
The Rest of the Story
If it would be irresponsible of the county not to bar smokers from employment in the Sheriff's Office, then is it not also irresponsible of the county to allow fat people to work in that office? And is it not also irresponsible to allow people who cannot demonstrate that they are on a vigorous physical activity regimen to work for the Sheriff's Office? And it must also be irresponsible to allow people who do not eat a nutritious diet to work for the Sheriff's Office? And why stop with that office? Isn't it irresponsible to allow smokers, fat people, and individuals who do not vigorously exercise and eat a nutritious diet to work for any department in the county?
The physical activity test makes sense since this is a bona fide job requirement to be a police officer. But if you are going to require a physical activity test, then shouldn't that be the determining factor? Why does it also matter if you smoke, once you've shown that you can pass the physical activity test? Or more importantly, why does it matter if you smoke, but not if you are obese, eat a terrible diet, or get little to no exercise?
The County manager implied that this program is intended to "discourage" county employees from smoking. However, this is not an incentive program at all. It is a prohibition of smoking among new employees. Thus, it does not discourage smoking; it prohibits it. An appropriate worksite health promotion program would try to help employees who want to quit smoking, not force them to quit or require them not to smoke in order to be employed in the first place.
An employee wellness program should be run by the employer for the employees who happen to have been hired. The wellness program should not be run by the personnel office, implemented by weeding out people with certain "undesirable" health habits.
And what is very troubling is that what is being considered "undesirable" is very subjective. Smoking is being singled out, but other poor health habits are being ignored. If you want to be consistent, then just require all new hires to be health nuts, who don't smoke, don't drink, exercise vigorously every day, eat yogurt and granola, and avoid tater tots like the plague.