Pima County Arizona official wants to stop hiring smokers

Courtesy azcentral.com

In Pima County, Arizona, smokers need not apply for jobs if one county administrator's proposal passes.

Chuck Huckelberry, Pima County administrator, wants the county to stop hiring smokers as part of the county's "commitment to employee wellness, increased productivity and decreased medical costs," according to a memo proposing the new regulations.

"All it is is a proposal that says beginning some date in the future, possibly as early as January 2015, we will not be hiring staff who smoke," Huckelberry said.

Pima County declared its campuses tobacco-free zones in 2013, but the proposed regulations would expand the initiative to include:

- Not hiring smokers for county jobs.

- Testing for nicotine use among current employees.

- Enacting a surcharge on smokers covered by the county health plan.

The proposal isn't on the Board of Supervisors' agenda, but Huckelberry said he expects it will go to the board in October, and will be "passed in some form."

Is this discrimination?

Not according to a 1987 federal appeals court ruling cited in the proposal that found smokers are not a protected class nor entitled to special legal protections.

Additionally, Arizona is among 21 states that do not protect the rights tobacco and nicotine users, according to the proposal.

Will it save money?

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seems to think so. It estimates that each smoker costs $3,400 a year in lost productivity and medical expenses.

"We spend $50 million a year providing medical services to our employees," Huckelberry said. "About 32 percent of our employees smoke, obviously those costs could be lowered if we had fewer smokers."

Throughout the U.S., smokers cost at least $133 billion for direct medical care and more than $156 billion in lost productivity, according to the CDC.


If the proposal were to be approved, county employees who "certify" they are tobacco/nicotine free would have to prove it with a drug test that detects cotinine, an alkaloid found in tobacco, in order to receive a discount on their medical premiums.

Those who don't want to take the test, or just want to smoke tobacco, would see a 30 percent increase in their premiums starting July 1, 2015, with a 10 percent increase each year until it reaches a maximum of 50 percent, in alignment with Affordable Care Act guidelines, according to the memo.

"My guess is the part of the plan that's got the most difficulty passing is testing,"Huckelberry said. "The testing is just to verify what they are telling us is true."


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