The World Health Organizations says smoking is considered a high risk factor in six of the eight leading causes of death worldwide. Medical experts have long preached about how smokers can quit. Now a growing number of employers in the United States are refusing to hire them. Some smokers are wondering what kind of discrimination is next.
More and more Americans who smoke are beginning to feel unliked and unwanted. Federal laws prevent them from smoking in public buildings. They are not allowed to smoke within a certain distance of those buildings.
Since the federal law was passed a decade ago, many state and local communities have followed suit.
Now a growing number of companies and hospitals will not hire smokers, or worse, will fire them if they are caught lighting up.
Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga, Tennessee is now giving check-ups to prospective employees. A urine test that detects nicotine means no job is offered.
Nurse Kristi Edmondson thinks her smoking habit is nobody's business but her own. "Memorial should not dictate to us what we do in our own time, off the time clock," she stated.
The head of the hospital's parent company, Memorial Health Care Systems, is James Hobson. He defends the decision. "It's relevant to creating that healthy lifestyle," he said. "And again it's relevant to the entire community."
A growing number of large American companies are finding that health care costs for smokers are higher than for non-smokers.
A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that medical care and the loss of worker productivity averages about $3,000 annually for each smoker.
As a result, some companies now require smokers to pay a larger share of their health insurance than non-smokers.
While 29 of the 50 U.S. states have laws that protect the rights of smokers, 21 others do not. Weyco an insurance benefits administrator in (the state of) Michigan, began imposing random smoking tests in 2005 on its own employees.
The President of the National Workrights Institute is Lewis Maltby. "Most people think they have a right to freedom of speech. They don't know that their freedom of speech disappears where their boss is concerned," Maltby said.
The World Health Organization says at least five million tobacco users die every year from lung cancer, heart disease and other smoking-related causes. The WHO says if current trends continue, tobacco-related deaths will climb to at least eight million a year by 2030.