TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Pima County will consider later this month whether to no longer hire smokers and put a price on workers who do smoke.
The Pima County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote Dec. 16 on a policy that would refuse the hiring of any smokers, the Arizona Daily Star reported. The proposal would also impose a 30 percent health-insurance surcharge on employees who smoke or consume other tobacco products.
According to county health officials, the policy could lead to more than $1 million in savings annually in health-care costs. Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said there will likely be significant saving if smokers and tobacco users are gradually replaced with healthier workers.
“Our taxpayers pay for our health insurance because we are self-insured,” Huckelberry said in an interview. “Anything we can do to reduce the cost is beneficial.”
The county health department estimates 32 percent of its more than 2,300 workers are tobacco users. The department said in a memo that tobacco users cost the county $13.4 million annually.
The policy states prospective workers would need a doctor’s note or a drug test to prove they have been tobacco or nicotine free for a year. Nonsmokers who prove to be nicotine free will be eligible for a $5 health-care discount every pay period. But tobacco users will be tasked with paying 30 percent more for their health care premium each paycheck. The policy would also apply to electronic cigarettes but not nicotine gum or patches, Huckelberry said.
But some say essentially prohibiting employees from smoking on their personal time goes too far. Dr. Michael Siegel, a Boston University public health professor who advocates for smoke-free workplaces, said the ban is a form of employment discrimination.
“Discrimination is essentially making employment decisions based on a group to which someone belongs rather than their qualifications for the job,” Siegel said.
Arizona is not among 29 states that have laws protecting smokers’ rights, according to the American Lung Association. Hiring people based on whether they smoke is akin to not hiring people for being obese or having hereditary medical problems, Siegel said.
Allyn Bulzomi, an ex-smoker and human resources director for Pima County, said the policy is about urging people to be healthy, not punishing those who smoke.
“The use of nicotine is a voluntary lifestyle choice,” Bulzomi said. “It was a choice at one time.”