Tallahassee City Commissioners are considering a ban on hiring smokers in order to help stem a five-million dollar budget shortfall. But, Tallahassee wouldn’t be the first city in Florida to make such a move.
Smoking cigarettes can lead to heart disease, hypertension, cancer and depending on where you live in Florida, unemployment. Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox said smokers present a higher health care cost to the city and it’s not fair for taxpayers to subsidize a bad habit.
“If you smoke cigarettes, it’s bad for you, it leads to cancer, it leads to lung cancer, [and] it leads to heart disease. It’s an elective choice that you have made. I don’t think that if you’ve made that choice you ought to be eligible for hire at the City of Tallahassee,” Maddox stated.
But, banning smokers from being hired presents a quandary: should cities also consider banning people with other chronic health conditions such as obesity? Tallahassee health care attorney John Buchanan thinks employers should only consider those types of bans if they can prove such conditions affect productivity.
“Well, I think you’d have to look at job performance and have to have a causal relationship between the activity and job performance, or the type of job the potential employee is seeking,” Buchanan said.
But, smoking does seem to affect performance. Recent studies show that smokers take more sick days than their non-smoking counterparts and have significantly higher health care costs. Tobacco Free Florida’s Shannon Hughes said added cost is significant.
“Female smokers incur $ 17,500 more in lifetime medical expenses than non-smoking women and male smokers incur $ 15,800 more in lifetime medical expenses than non-smoking men,” Hughes pointed out.
But, according to a 2012 study by researchers at Lehigh University obesity in the U.S. contributes more to an employer’s yearly health expenses than smoking. But, Chris Lunny of Tallahassee’s Radey Law Firm said because of the costs long-known to be associated with smoking, bans have been upheld at the highest levels of the Florida judiciary.
“Since 1995 the Florida Supreme Court looked at this issue and decided that municipalities can preclude smokers from their payroll and being employed by the cities,” Lunny said.
Still, other states haven’t taken Florida’s lead.
“Well there are currently 29 or so states that offer smokers’ rights and would preclude employers from asking questions like that or stopping smokers from enrolling on their payroll and becoming employed. Florida is just not one,” Lunny added.
Since the Florida Supreme Court’s 1995 decision, the list of cities banning the hiring of smokers has grown. It now includes Atlantic Beach, Hollywood and Hallandale Beach, among others. But, Hallandale spokesman, Radu Dodea said since the city adopted its ban in 1999, it hasn’t realized any savings.
“There was no studies done since then to kind of reflect whether this has had any kind of direct impact on our healthcare costs or has reduced any chronic smoking-related illnesses,” Dodea acknowledged.
The City of North Miami, the plaintiff in the 1995 court case, rescinded its ban in 2003 even though the court ruled in the city’s favor. Why? North Miami spokeswoman, Pam Solomon, said like Hallandale, there wasn’t a financial benefit.
“We could no longer tell if it really made a difference on our claims. So, since it had- we couldn’t justify the financial impact of the non-smoking policy she went ahead and rescinded that in order to help open up the applicant pool for our police officer recruitment,” Solomon commented.
For now Florida cities are free to ban smokers from being hired. And, some municipalities have done as Broward County did and upped healthcare premiums for smokers. As for Tallahassee, city commissioners say it’s just one way the city might balance its budget.