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More Companies Refuse to Hire Smokers, Are Obese Next?
As more companies refuse to hire smokers - to save over $10,000/yr per employee, and because employing smokers sends the wrong message - the major argument in opposition doesn’t attack the practice, but bemoans that it will spread to the obese.
But public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who helped start and encourage the movement, and helped defend it in court, suggests that there are many reasons why smoking is very different from obesity.
First, obesity’s official classification by the government as a “disease” (for tax and Medicare purposes), and as a “health status” (for health insurance purposes), might make it legally difficult, whereas smoking, classified only as a “behavior,”
Similarly, obese workers are also sometimes subject to protection under the Americans With Disabilities Act [ADA], whereas smokers enjoy no such legal protection.
That’s why smokers can be charged more for health insurance even in the absence of a qualified “wellness”
Since about one-third of adult Americans are obese, a policy of not hiring them could severely limit the number of qualified applicants. But since only about 13% of adults smoke daily, and smokers are increasingly concentrated in groups with the least education, concerns over loss of qualified workers are fewer.
Because many people believe that obesity is often caused by heredity, genes, childhood eating, and other factors over which employees have little if any control, a “no-obese”
Those who care enough about not being able to find or hold a job can quit smoking, a process (though difficult) which usually occurs immediately or while undergoing a brief smoking cessation program. In contrast, few can stop being obese in a brief period of time, and any attempt to do so quickly (e.g., because of job concerns) is likely to have serious adverse health consequences, and raise medical care costs rather than lower them.
Banzhaf notes that life insurance companies – and a growing number of health insurance companies – quote different rates for smokers, whereas different higher rates for obese policy holders are very rare if not nonexistent. This suggest that insurance companies, like many employers, see a very big difference between smoking and obesity, and that any policy aimed at smoking need not also be applied to obesity.
Although there are laws in some states purporting to prohibit policies against hiring smokers, both Action on Smoking and Health (Banzhaf’s group) and the American Medical Association have pointed out that they are rarely enforced and easily avoided: e.g. by banning workers smelling of tobacco smoke.
In any event, there is also very strong anecdotal evidence that many companies simply have an informal unannounced policy of declining to hire smokers, or giving very strong preference to nonsmokers.
PROFESSOR JOHN F. BANZHAF III
Professor of Public Interest Law at GWU,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
FELLOW, World Technology Network, and
Executive Director and Chief Counsel
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
America’s First Antismoking Organization
2013 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006, USA
(202) 659-4310 // (703) 527-8418