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for your comfort and convenience, you will not smoke February 5, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Observations.

For the purposes of this post, “smoking” refers to cigarettes. Also, the post title is lifted from a line in a Terry Pratchett novel whose name escapes me at the moment. I believe it was “Soul Music”.

CC-licensed photo by Flickr user ҳҲdalo3at 7abibyҲҳ

CC-licensed photo by Flickr user ҳҲdalo3at 7abibyҲҳ

You need only do some cursory googling to see that companies have begun declining to hire people who smoke. You may be of the opinion that companies have no right to control what you do in your spare time, as long as it doesn’t directly impact the company or your job.

The use of any drug can impact your company or your job. Legal drugs such as prescription painkillers and alcohol impair your judgment. Illegal drugs carry the additional risk of getting you thrown in jail if you’re caught using or selling them. Compared to that, all cigarettes do is give you an excuse to go hang out in the smoker’s pavilion for 15 minutes at a time, right?

Actually, that’s wrong. Smoking affects your health (people who’ve smoked a pack a day for 50 years and are still ostensibly healthy notwithstanding). That means you have to use your health insurance, which costs your company money. Plus, if you get cancer, you’ll have to spend time in the hospital or getting chemotherapy (which makes you not want to do anything for several days afterward), and that means less productivity out of your position. All things that a non-smoking employee could have happen as well, but it’s much less likely.

Most smokers also don’t only smoke a single cigarette a day*. Employees could conceivably steal up to an hour a day taking cigarette breaks. Plus some people find the smell of cigarette smoke off-putting, to the point that it can impact their productivity as well. I personally don’t mind it too much in small doses.

It’s easy to set up a “we won’t hire smokers” policy, but what do you do when you want to eliminate smoking at the workplace? If you just announce “no more smoking as of January 1”, you’re liable to anger employees who’ve been with you for a long time and who may have more credibility with the other peons than you as a manager. No, you have to put in place a method, and still be prepared for trouble even after you’ve done so. Here’s one way you could go about it:

  1. Inform all employees that, starting in (for example) three months, employees who smoke will be required to pay a higher health-insurance cost. Explain why.
  2. Implement a policy stating that all employees must be tested — at company expense — to find out if they are currently smokers. Offer a health-insurance increase subsidy — in other words, don’t charge the additional money — if employees enter a program designed to get them off cigarettes. Require proof.
  3. Corollary to the “mandatory” test — it won’t necessarily be mandatory, but employees will have two choices:
    • Take the test.
    • Pay the additional money for health insurance, and forgo taking the test.
  4. Inform new employees of this policy during their interview.
  5. Do not permit smoking on the premises, except in a designated smoking area. Make the designated smoking area difficult to get to — if it’s too much of a pain to go smoke, employees may choose not to do so. Enforce this policy, no matter how valuable the employee is.**
  6. Strictly enforce the smoking policy using a positive-reinforcement program. If you go back each year to take a smoking test and you pass, you receive some token compensation — a gift-certificate to a restaurant, etc.
  7. Inform employees that, starting one year after their first test, a name will be pulled from a hat (or something) every month, and that name will be asked to either take another smoking test — at company expense, including one half-day paid time off if required — in order to keep their lower insurance rate.

If your company wants to eliminate smoking — and its associated additional health care costs — you have to remove all burdens from employees except for the actual act of quitting smoking. The cost of eliminating smokers from your company is less expensive overall than the cost of supporting one or more employees who are having smoking-related health problems.

Any company truly wanting to eliminate smoking from its ranks will succeed. At every step, the company simply has to pay for the inconvenience of testing while simultaneously rewarding the positive behavior of not smoking. Also, they have to make it a choice — you do not have to take the test, but if you don’t, that means you’re choosing to pay the higher premiums.

One positive note — fewer people overall seem to be making the choice to smoke. Research is torn on the effectiveness of anti-smoking programs, but anecdotally, I’ve seen fewer and fewer smokers outside restaurants, stores, and movie theaters these days. Maybe they’re keeping it on the DL because of the stigma against smoking. I really don’t know. But as the cost of cigarettes goes up and as more companies increase the size of the barriers smokers must scale to partake in their addiction, fewer people will choose to smoke, and the problem will solve itself.

Until then, smoke ’em if you got ’em.

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* Obviously, Lost Reporter, you’re an exception to the rule.

** At CorporateSpeak, I don’t even know where the designated smoking area is. They threaten to fire people who don’t use it, but I don’t think it’s gone that far. I do know it’s hard to get to; I’m pretty sure it’s hidden in the back near the dumpsters.



1. Tamara - February 8, 2009

I agree with everything you’ve listed, but I’d be interested in a solution for handling the part-time employee who smokes but does not have health insurance through the company. There is no insurance premium to raise or lower for incentive. Is it legal to negatively impact their salary?

2. That Guy - February 8, 2009

(Note: I am not a lawyer, nor am I an HR person.)

I think that if it was told to you up front, a company could legally do ANYTHING that wasn’t discriminatory due to race, sex, orientation, religion, or affiliation. But it’s more likely smoking part-timers would be assigned the undesirable shifts or receive fewer hours. However, in my opinion, it would still behoove the company to subsidize a quit-smoking program even for part-timers.

3. That Guy’s Tips for Faking It: Introduction « corporatespeak - April 27, 2009

[…] article also suggests you become a smoker so you can take smoke breaks, but with more and more companies instituting penalties for smoking on the job, that’s likely not your best option. Plus it’s unhealthy, and if […]

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