Smokers cost employers money, there’s no doubt about that. Some estimates say smokers cost about 15% more than nonsmokers. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates smoking costs the United States more than $193 billion every year, between medical expenses and losses in productivity.
Some employers are not putting up with it any longer. Last year, nationwide retailer Macy’s started charging employees who smoke $35 per month for health coverage. Smokers can have the cost deferred if they enroll in a free smoking cessation class. After six months, their progress is reviewed and if they’ve quit, great. If not—the surcharge starts again.
And Macy’s isn’t the only company to charge smokers a fee. PepsiCo and Gannett both charge smokers extra health insurance fees. But some go further. Union Pacific and Scotts Miracle-Gro, for example, will not even consider hiring smokers. The Cleveland Clinic requires all job candidates to have their blood tested for nicotine.
Starting in 2018, health reform legislation will require companies with health plans that significantly exceed the average to pay an additional federal tax. Many companies will have no choice than to do what’s necessary to cut healthcare costs—including reducing the number of smokers on the payroll.
Most employers have smokers on their staffs. And while most workplaces prohibit smoking indoors, smokers who light up only at home can still have a negative effect on a company. Employers may choose to encourage smokers to quit through positive methods, such as quit-smoking classes or cash incentives, or through punitive measures, such as fines and surcharges.
Or, the entire company could shift its entire focus to better health. Helping employees lose weight, increase their fitness levels and quit smoking can increase morale while lowering health insurance costs. By showing that they care about the health and well being of all employees, as well as their families, employers can affect real, lasting change.
The question remains: is it still better to hire the best possible candidate, even if he or she smokes?