The city of Dayton, Ohio will no longer hire vapers or smokers, using statistics on productivity and medical costs to justify the move. Vaping advocates are concerned that such laws could spread.
“Studies indicate that employees that smoke cost approximately an additional $6,000 per year in direct medical costs and lost productivity,” said Dayton human resources director Kenneth Couch.
Other cities, and many private companies, have had policies for decades against hiring people who smoke. In fact, the practice caused such controversy in the 1980’s and 90’s that many states passed laws outlawing discrimination against smokers (or against people engaging in any lawful activity). Currently, 29 states have such laws—but Ohio is not one of them.
The problem is that use of nicotine in non-combustible forms like vaping or smokeless tobacco doesn’t have the same health burdens as smoking. The city is lumping all nicotine users together, and claiming that vapers will cause the same lost productivity and medical costs as smokers.
The rules in Dayton apply only to employees hired after July 15. Job candidates will be tested for nicotine before hiring. Once employed, they can be retested if the city has “reliable” information that they have used nicotine.
Union leaders representing city workers are worried that the law may be a slippery slope leading to rules against other “lifestyle choices.” Yet at least one of them is sympathetic toward (and misinformed about) the city’s position.
“We are not thrilled about it, but we also understand where the city is coming from because the biggest part of their health care costs are from nicotine-related illnesses,” Rick Oakley, president of the union representing Dayton police officers. There is no category of diseases called “nicotine-related illnesses.” Oakley means smoking-related illnesses.
But other behaviors affect insurance costs too. Why should I, as an employee, share the costs of other employees who choose to have children, or overeat, or ride motorcycles, or go mountain climbing? The risks of vaping are relatively low, and haven’t even been quantified. Why should vapers suffer employment discrimination for posing costs that can’t even be defined?
Aside from discriminating against vapers, hiring bans like the one in Dayton punish disadvantaged groups that smoke at disproportionately high rates, and already have a difficult time finding jobs. In a 2013 New England Journal of Medicine editorial, a group of medical ethicists and behavioral economists made the case for hiring people who smoke:
“More than 36% of Americans living below the federal poverty line are smokers, as compared with 22.5% of those with incomes above that level,” wrote the academics. “Crucially, policies against hiring smokers result in a ‘double whammy’ for many unemployed people, among whom smoking rates are nearly 45% (as compared with 28% among Americans with full-time employment). These policies therefore disproportionately and unfairly affect groups that are already burdened by high unemployment rates, poor job prospects, and job insecurity.”