Workplace smoking bans on the rise
Gina B. Kellogg
By 2020, the entire country could have state laws that ban smoking in all indoor areas of private workplaces as well as restaurants and bars, a recent report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicted. As of 2010, the CDC says, 25 states and the District of Columbia had enacted sweeping policies that prohibit smoking in workplaces, restaurants and bars.
In states without these bans, various cities, counties and individual businesses have eliminated smoking in the workplace (and at other places). For employers, among the goals of wiping out smoking at the office are getting employees to kick the habit, clearing the air for nonsmokers — and, simultaneously, cutting
Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, says: “While there has been a lot of progress over the past decade, far too many Americans continue to be exposed to secondhand smoke at their workplaces, increasing their risk of cancer and heart attacks.”
|The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts every state will have a workplace smoking ban by 2020.|
‘An important trend’
LuAnn Heinen, vice president of the nonprofit National Business Group on Health, says prohibition of smoking at work “is an important trend, and with good reason. It’s effective in improving employee health among smokers and nonsmokers alike.”
Melanie Dove, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Statistics at the University of California, Irvine, was among a group of Harvard University researchers who published a report in 2010 showing a substantial decrease in heart-attack deaths in Massachusetts one year after state and local governments imposed workplace smoking bans.
Reducing the risk of smoking-related diseases like heart disease and lung cancer “may result in healthier workers and may lower workers’ health insurance costs,” Dove says.
CDC figures show tobacco use costs the United States about $193 billion a year. This figure includes about $97 billion from loss of productivity stemming from premature death and $96 billion in smoking-related health care costs. The CDC reports that a smoker costs an employer about $3,400 annually in higher health insurance costs, reduced productivity and increased absenteeism.
Of course, the biggest benefit of workplace smoking bans is their potential to save lives. Each year, cigarette smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke cause 443,000 deaths in the United States, according to the CDC. Those numbers make tobacco use the most preventable cause of death in the United States.
Tread carefully on employees’ rights
Despite the touted benefits of workplace smoking bans, employers should be cautious about trying to extend the limitations beyond the office, one legal expert says.
Alice Stock, a partner at New York law firm Pryor Cashman LLP who practices employment law, says: “Many states have laws that prohibit smoking in all or virtually all workplaces. Even in states in which there are no laws that prohibit smoking in the workplace, many employers nevertheless ban smoking in the workplace. However, employers should be careful about the scope of their smoking bans and ensure that they do not place smoking prohibitions on employees after hours and outside of the workplace.”
Stock says several states, including New York and California, have laws that prohibit an employer from discriminating against, refusing to hire or firing an employee based on the employee’s legal activities after-hours and outside the workplace.
“Some of these laws were passed explicitly to protect employers from not hiring smokers,” Stock says.
In the majority of locales that have adopted smoking bans, the fiercest opposition has come from bars and restaurants, whose owners fear that smokers won’t frequent their establishments if they can’t light up.
Constitutional scholar Robert Levy has echoed one of the main arguments made by opponents of smoking bans: They encroach on freedom.
Most smoking bans, Levy wrote in 2005, “represent prying, busybody government at its worst — regulations without any respect for property rights, foisted on the public by anti-tobacco zealots armed with pseudo-science … .”
“Smoking bans are really about unrestrained government, an anti-tobacco crusade against thousands of private businesses and millions of smokers without grounding in fairness or common sense, and without an appreciation for the principles that nourish a free society,” Levy wrote.
Levy is a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute and author of the Goldwater Institute’s “Arizona’s Anti-Tobacco Crusade” report.
In a paper that appeared in 2009 in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, economics professor Michael Marlow maintained that advocates of smoking bans may exaggerate the risks of secondhand smoke and may deny evidence of economic harm to some businesses. Furthermore, he wrote, smokers may overcompensate for being unable to smoke in certain places by lighting up “more intensely” where they are permitted to puff.
Marlow teaches at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.