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No smoking in my county: Manager wants to ban workers lighting up

No smoking in my county: Manager wants to ban workers lighting up
Nicotine lover’s dreams of a job in one Arizona county could go up in smoke, if a manager has his way. He wants to impose a smoking ban on new employees, while existing workers would have to pay a surcharge of up to 50 percent if they light up.

In a memo dated July 25, Chuck Huckelberry, who is the manager of Prima County, in the south of the state, says that he proposes only hiring employees for county jobs from January 1, 2015 who have been nicotine free for 12 months and are willing to sign a document to state this is true.

Those who fail the test would have the opportunity to repeat it within 24 hours. However, if the second test proves to be negative then the applicant will be barred for applying for a position within the south Arizonan county for 12 months.

“Numerous studies have showed that employees who use tobacco/nicotine based products have a greater negative impact on healthcare costs than employees who abstain from tobacco/nicotine use,” said the administrator.

However, the new initiative does not only affect new workers, but also those already employed within the system. Those who smoke and refuse to give up, or have failed to take a test showing they are ‘smoke free’ would have to pay a 30 percent premium surcharge following July 1, 2015, and it would be increased by 10 percent annually until it eventually reaches 50 percent.

This new proposal has the potential to affect almost a third of the 4,000 Pima county employees, as according to the memo, 32 percent of those currently employed smoke. A smoking ban on county property was introduced in 2013.

However, Huckelberry indicated in the memo that the county is committed to helping smokers, despite the proposed surcharges. “Our employee wellness program will assist them in finding tobacco-cessation programs.”

The county manager justifies the proposed legislation in terms of legality by saying, “Federal law specifies that employers are not allowed to refuse to hire someone based on age, race, disability, gender or other protracted cases.” However, Huckelberry went on to state, “A Federal Appeals Court ruled in 1987 that smokers are not a protected class entitled to special legal protections, and that courts need no further rationale than the Surgeon General’s warning on cigarette cartons: Smoking is hazardous to your health.”

The legislation proposed by Huckelberry has come under fire from Art Mendoza, who is an organizer with the Service Employees International Union Arizona Local 48, who believes the county should try to achieve its aims of cutting down smoking in a “less invasive way,” he told Reuters. He also added that the proposals could lead to other surcharges and practices that could adversely impact employees.