Should Indiana deny employment to cigarette smokers?

INDIANAPOLIS - Smoking could cost you a chance at a new job if lawmakers approve an idea recently introduced at the statehouse.

The proposed law would give employers the right to deny a job to a candidate who smokes. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce is pushing for the change to the current law, known as the “Smokers’ Bill of Rights.”

For the chamber, it comes down to money. Officials said an employee who smokes costs a company 60 to 70 percent more for health care than one who doesn’t.

"We have the highest percentage of smoking by population than any state in the country,” Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar said. “That contributes to higher than average health care costs. That's a detriment to recruiting businesses."

The chamber’s goal is to improve the state’s business climate and competitiveness. The current law prohibits an employer from denying a job to a person who smokes.

"It essentially gives smokers the same employment protections as race, religion, ethnicity, national origin," Brinegar said.

Brinegar doesn’t think people who choose to smoke should be given the same protections, though.

That’s why his organization wants to give businesses the ability to require prospective employees not to smoke or use any tobacco as a condition of employment.

The idea doesn’t sit well with the American Civil Liberties Union. On its website, the organization states, “Employers may well try to dominate every health-related aspect of their employees’ lives, including diet, exercise and sleep habits…”

Smokers and non-smokers in the Circle City have mixed feelings.

One smoker said: “I think it’s up to businesses to hire who they want.”

Another person said: "I do not think that is right, because people doesn't get denied for eating fast food, which is also bad for your health."

And a bar manager said: "I sort of understand, I suppose, if you're looking at an insurance policy, because I know a lot of health insurance pays more for smokers. But, I also think that it's a matter of personal freedom. What people do as adults whether smoke or not doesn't diminish their skills as an employee."

The chamber isn’t proposing any changes for current employees who are smokers - only prospective workers.

It’s unclear if the support exists here to make the changes to the law. No hearing on the idea is scheduled at this point.

Twenty-nine states have rights in place for smokers, including Indiana. The habit costs the state’s economy billions of dollars each year.

The American Lung Cancer Association said the state loses more than $7.5 billion a year in health care costs, losses in productivity and premature deaths.

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