Cigarette ad, 1931.
Source: Stanford School of Medicine
Twenty-one states do not accept smokers as a protected group of people or recognize a right to smoke, which allows employers to legally refuse to hire smokers. The most common industry banning smoking is healthcare, particularly hospitals, where 21% of organizations will not hire smokers—or, in many cases, anyone with nicotine in their system, including those currently using nicotine replacement products to break the habit.
A common argument for healthcare organizations banning smoking among their ranks is that, as healthcare staff, they should be setting a positive example for their patients and community. Many healthcare organizations also say that they wish to promote a healthier workforce and lifestyle for their employees. But not everyone is buying it.
"We have to ask ourselves what this is really about," said Philip Gordon, managing partner at the Gordon Law Group in Boston, Mass, which specializes in employment law. "It's about money. Employers think smokers are going to increase health costs," he said.
DeAnn McEwen, RN, a nursing practice specialist at National Nurses United, remembers the smoke-filled nurses' lounges of the seventies and is glad they're gone. But she also firmly believes that what healthcare employees do outside the hospital while on their own time is none of their employers' business.