Fort Worth Considers Ban On Hiring Smokers

If a new policy is adopted, smokers in Fort Worth, Texas, may no longer be eligible to work for the city, WFAA is reporting.

In reevaluating its health care strategy, Fort Worth's human resources department is looking at some private business models, including that of Baylor Healthcare System, one of the state's largest employers which stopped hiring smokers as of Jan. 1, according to the Dallas Morning News.

"Certainly we put tax-payer dollars into health care for our employees, and anything that might benefit the health to make our employees more protective and healthy, we're going to take a look at," Betsy Price, the mayor of Fort Worth, told WFAA.

The proposed ban in Fort Worth is one of many measures employers are taking or considering in order to discourage employees from smoking. In November, The New York Times reported that, in the last two years, the number of health insurance policies that penalize employees with higher premiums for unhealthy lifestyle choices has doubled.

According to the Times, Home Depot, Safeway, and General Mills all now demand higher premiums from certain workers. Wal-Mart recently started demanding a $2,000-a-year surcharge from some of its employees who smoke.

And in December, the New York Post reported that smokers working for PepsiCo were outraged over having to pay $50 per month for their habit, a fee that would be waived if they took a four to six week anti-smoking course.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, smoking and secondhand smoke cost the U.S. $193 billion in health bills and lost productivity annually.

Regardless of what smoking costs the country or an individual employer, some argue that penalizing smokers sends the wrong message, when the focus should be on helping them quit. As Michael Siegel, a professor at Boston University's School of Public Health, told USA Today in January, "These policies represent employment discrimination. It's a very dangerous precedent."

Sure enough, some city employees in Fort Worth are unhappy about the potential ban.

"I feel like the next thing they want to do is take DNA samples to figure out if anybody is going to have any kind of diseases going forward," Vince Chasteen, president of the city's employee association, who has been smoking for 41 years and working for the city for 30, told WFAA.