Arizona smokers are currently threatened by unemployment and more expensive health insurance premiums. They will not be hired for work anymore, when the Pima County Board will unanimously vote for the policy about banning smokers from the state’s workforce. Also part of the proposal is the 30 percent surcharge to the health insurance of employees who smoke; while giving discounts to non-smokers. The board will meet on December 16 for the voting.
Arizona county health officials said the proposed policy could bring more than a million dollars annual savings in healthcare costs to the state. Gradual replacement of tobacco users with healthier workers will likely bring significant savings, said Administrator Chuck Huckelberry of Pima County. He added, that while taxpayers pay for their health insurance since they are self-insured, what they can do is reduce the cost. Arizona smokers cost the county $13.4 million a year, claims Pima Health Department. The department’s data shows 2,300 of the workers or about 32 percent are tobacco users.
Arizona smokers are threatened by unemployment, as the government is among the largest job providers in the place. When the proposal becomes a policy, it will require new workers to be nicotine-free for a year by undergoing a drug test or carrying a doctor’s note. On the other hand, non-smokers will enjoy a $5 off in health care premiums each paycheck. The policy regards users of Ebola cigarettes and electronic cigarettes as smokers; but nicotine patch or gum users are classified as non-smokers.
Human Resources Director Allyn Bulzoni for Pima Country, who was a smoker, said the proposed policy does not intend to penalize the public, but to make them healthier. Some groups consider the policy a form of discrimination. Boston University’s Public Health Professor Dr. Michael Siegel, an advocate of smoke-free workplaces commented, that discrimination is making employment-related decisions which give more weight to which group someone belongs, rather than his job qualifications. Hiring employees based on smoking is like banning from employment, those with medical problems or people who are overweight. He said, preventing employees from using nicotine products even during their personal time is just too much.
Arizona smokers are prohibited to smoke in public and employment places. Public places are enclosed areas where the public is permitted, like airports, bars, banks, entertainment venues, restaurants, retail stores, marketing establishments, theaters, shopping malls, waiting rooms and sports facilities. Employment places are enclosed areas under public or private employer control, where employees usually go to or stay during employment. Office buildings, restrooms, employee lounges, auditoriums, meeting rooms, classrooms, stairs, private offices, health care facilities, hallways and elevators are considered as places of employment. Those who smoke in these public places commit a petty offense that comes with a fine between 50 to 100 dollars.
The Smoke-Free Arizona Act of 2007 ensures a clean air for Arizonans, that they do not need to breathe secondhand smoke in public and employment places. Both public and private sectors try to make the state a leader in protecting citizens’ health. In compliance with the Smoke-Free Act, business owners make steps to go beyond the Act for its customers and employers, for cleaner air in Arizona.
According to the American Lung Association, the state has no existing laws that protect the right of Arizona smokers, unlike 29 states which have. While Arizona smokers are now being threatened by unemployment, it will be seen on December 16, if the proposal to ban them from the workforce will make its way to the state’s existing policies.
By Judith Aparri
Photo courtesy by Gonzalo Merat – Flicker License