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In Select North Florida Counties, ‘We Don’t Hire People Who Smoke’

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In an attempt to reduce health insurance costs, more county offices are initiating smoke-free hiring policies.

Flagler County is one of the recent Florida counties to pass a smoke-free hiring policy. The policy would prohibit the county from hiring smokers starting Oct. 1.

As part of the policy, all new hires for Flagler County will be tested for nicotine along with signing an affidavit claiming they have not smoked within the past year and a pledge not to smoke in the future.

Current employees will not be affected by the new policy.

No smoking signs can be seen posted around the Alachua County administration building. Smokers are being left to decide to either quit smoking or lose a job opportunity, as more counties take on smoke-free hiring policies.
No smoking signs can be seen posted around the Alachua County administration building. Smokers now face a tough decision: decide to either quit smoking or lose a job opportunity, as more counties take on smoke-free hiring policies.

Becky Witte, Flagler County human resource analyst, said the policy will benefit the county.

“When our employees are well and healthy, they don’t miss a lot of work,” she said. “In the long term, we’re looking at decreased health insurance costs.”

Flagler County employees have already had access to cessation classes and nicotine therapy treatment.

Like Flagler County, Marion County has a similar initiative to save on health insurance costs. In 2008, Marion County began requiring hires to sign a no-smoking affidavit.

“We don’t hire people who smoke,” said Diana Price, Marion County human resources and labor relations manager. “Anyone who was hired here before 2008 can still smoke.”

Alachua County does not have a smoke-free hire policy but smoke-free hiring still takes place. Alachua County Clerk of Courts office has an unofficial smoke-free hiring policy. Potential hires are asked in the interview if they smoke, said Cheryl Jordan, Alachua County Clerk of Court personnel manager.

“We tend to not hire people that smoke,” she said. “There have been lots of studies done that smokers tend to have higher health insurance claims and obviously the claims determine what our premiums are going to be. We want to promote a healthier workplace.”

Approximately 8 percent of about 2,100 Alachua County employees use tobacco, said Amy Childs, wellness coordinator for Alachua County employees. Childs said a smoke-free hiring policy is not something Alachua County needs to focus on at the moment.

“Other counties with different populations will have to make the best decision based on what they’re working with,” she said.

There are potential anti-smoking policies in the works for Alachua County. Childs said a possible proposal would force county employees to smoke 50 feet from county buildings.

While more counties continue to back the smoke-free hire policy, Linda Howard, interim human resources director for Columbia County, said the policy could be seen as discrimination.

“We do not discriminate against anyone who smokes,” she said. “Would we not hire someone who was obese? Just about anything can be considered a disability.”

For some, the smoke-free hiring policy is seen as intrusive.

Susan Baird, an Alachua County commissioner, said she does not agree with the smoke-free hire policy.

“I wouldn’t think it’s right to say to someone, ‘You cannot work for us if you smoke,’” she said. “What you do outside of your business day is up to you.”

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  • Mikey

    I agree with the Alachua County Commissioner. This is going too far. If the county wants to have the employee pay the difference in the health insurance premium, that is fine. What if the county decides that using salt, drinking sodas or eating fast food is unhealthy? Maybe the county should not hire those people either.