Smoke and Mirrors

Smoking is fast becoming as unacceptable in proper society as spittoons were at the turn of the previous century. And that’s a good thing — peer pressure will do more to curb smoking than all the laws a government could write.

Some smokers complain, however, that their rights are being violated. Well, no. There’s no “right to smoke” in the Constitution. The government could make tobacco completely illegal, like they have done for other drugs and substances that give you cancer. After all, that worked with marijuana, right? They made it illegal and no one smokes that!

Anyway, sarcasm aside, while I support laws prohibiting smoking in public places, there are still some gray areas with which I am uncomfortable.

For instance, when I was hiring a new secretary, I said “no smokers need apply.” Smokers smell up the office, need more sick days, and cause health care insurance rates to rise. It seemed like a reasonable request to me, and one many businesses now do (especially jobs where being healthy and in shape are important, like for police officers).

But there is a worrisome slippery slope there. After all, if the worry is about health care and sick days, should an employer also be allowed to say “No one who is overweight will be hired” or “only vegetarians need apply” or “no soda drinkers”? How much of our personal decisions should an employer be able to use when deciding whether to hire us?

I don’t really have an answer to that one.

15 thoughts on “Smoke and Mirrors

  1. “How much of our personal decisions should an employer be able to use when deciding whether to hire us?” In my opinion? None. If it doesn’t impact your ability to do your job while you are at work, it should be off the table. If it’s a “grey area”, that might or might not be relevant, that should be off the table, too.

    By “off the table”, I don’t mean there should be an entire federal bureaucracy devoted to making up rules, lists of exceptions, and ham-fistedly enforcing them. I mean that competent human adults should just treat each other with basic respect.


  2. You can be less authoritative about it. You can simply make it clear to a potential employee that smoking is not permitted in the office or on your property and that smelling of smoke is not acceptable. That puts the ball in the smoker’s court to either not take the job or to smoke lightly during work hours and probably use a lot of air freshener.


  3. Smoking is in an entirely different category from “overweight”, “soda drinker”, or other similar things. Of them all, only smoking has range and striking power. Banning heavy perfume in the office would fit in the same catagory, I suppose, though aside from allergies (which I have, but most don’t) it’s not a health risk but just an annoyance.


  4. The health thing is slippery. The smelling like smoke…not. You don’t want the smell in your office, and that’s YOUR right. If someone is able to keep the smell out of their hair and clothing (which is difficult!) then they are able to abide by the office rules. If not, they’ll have to find a new job. Your secretary represents your business — would you want one who came in dressed in jeans and ripped t-shirts sitting at the desk, greeting clients?


    • not a fair or equal comparison. there have also been lots of studies that prove that the cost of excluding smokers is far greater than the cost of any health related concerns they may bring. For example, does the said employer plan to test after the employee is hired?

      The smell issue is an issue that the smoker themselves have to deal with. That is a valid concern.


  5. I’m a smoker. I don’t mind leaving the building to smoke. If my employer attempted to control my behavior when I was not on their premises or during my off-duty hours, that would be objectionable. You are right, Mike, that the health question is a slippery slope which will become slicker the more we are able to identify people who are genetically predisposed to certain disease. We probably need to erect barriers between a prospective employer’s curiosity and a potential employee’s health information now, before the point of no return is reached.


  6. I have to say that, having worked with smokers, smoking absolutely impacts your productivity IN the office. This smoker and I had the same job. Yet, she took a 10 minute smoke-break every hour (allowed by the boss). I did not. That’s 80 minutes a day less that she worked, yet we were paid the same. This is a loss of productivity from the smoker while AT WORK, not extra sick days. And it is unfair practice for the non-smokers. In a different job, I was the only non-smoker for a while. My manager, who smoked, noticed without my saying anything that he and the others got more “break time” than I did, and voluntarily allowed me the same amount of break time they took. There was a reason I loved my manager at that job!


  7. I agree with the others, smoking or smelling of smoke is a very diffrent matter than being overweight or drinking soda. Smelling of smoke can harm other people, being fat, or drinking soda only harms yourself.

    Someone mentioned using air freshener, IMO, air freshener is just as bad as cigarette smell, possibly worse for me. I react badly to cigarette smoke, tobacco is a nightshade and I’m allergic to nightshades. Most air fresheners and other fragranced things, perfumes, colognes etc, used to cover up body odor or cigarette reek make me even more sick than nightshades, I end up being unable to breathe and get migraines.

    A place I worked before had a smoker, I worked mornings, she worked afternoons, I could always tell when she had sat in my chair. The next morning, it would still smell strongly of cigarette and the fragrances she used to try to cover it up and failed. So even hours after she was gone, her scent lingered.

    I had a Dr. appointment a few months back with a specialist I had never been to before. I walked into the office and it smelled strongly of cigarette. Now there is no smoking in buildings in this state, so I figured it was wafting in from outside, even though all the doors and windows were closed and the AC was on. On my way out I saw the receptionist from the office outside smoking and I realized the smell that permeted the whole office was coming off of her.

    So even a smoker who doesn’t smoke around you will still have the scent of it on their body, their clothing, their breath and whatever handbag or lunchbag or whatever they carry with them all the time. And they will leave the smell behind when they leave. So if you don’t want that kind of pollution in your office on your property than you should be able to say so.

    You are a lawyer, what are the legalities of being able to refuse to hire a smoker?


    • Well, I am not an employment attorney, so I have done no research on it. It probably isn’t the same from state to state, and the only way it could come up is if someone sued over not getting a job, which doesn’t happen too often.

      I know that at least here in Pennsylvania, a restriction that all new police officers had to be nonsmokers was upheld.


      • Again, thats because PA is not one of the states that doesn’t prevent smokers to be excluded. If you were in NY or NJ it would not be legal to do such a thing.

        For what its worth, Im a non-smoker.


  8. When I quit smoking and told people they were confused.I was a smoker for 8 months at my current job and for 20 years before. Nobody knew, because I am aware of the smells ect and take counter measures. I never took extra breaks. They make gum and patches if you can’t break away.
    But what is most intriguing to me is health angle.
    You are saying that a person engaging in a perfectly lawful activity will be a liability because of possible absence due health issues.
    That is a very slippery slope.
    If it’s valid, what is the difference if you choose not hire women of child bearing age? Certainly , like smoking, sex is for fun. And having children is a want , not a need.


  9. Doesn’t it depend on the position? If you are hiring someone to be first point of contact to public or professional clients, appearances and offensive odors are more critical. A position in the warehouse- not so much. If say, Paul McCartney offered to record one of your songs, showed up with a cigarette in hand, would you still have a non-smoking policy?


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