Florida - no jobs for tobacco users..

October 2, 2009 - Palm Beach County Tax Collector Anne Gannon has decided the butt stops here. She said Wednesday, October 1st she will no longer hire anyone who has regularly used tobacco products, saying smokers in her office stick taxpayers with paying for rising health-care costs.

Existing smokers among her 240 employees get to keep their jobs, but are being "encouraged" to quit, Gannon said. But they will pay more for health insurance: She plans to increase what those employees pay toward their coverage by as much as 20 percent. Gannon said her goal is to cut down on rising health insurance costs and to encourage a healthier, more productive working environment.

Taxpayers pay $2.5 million a year toward health insurance for tax collector employees, a cost that rose 45 percent in three years, Gannon said. Job seekers will be required to submit an affidavit indicating they are non-smokers to go along with their job application to be considered for employment, according to the new policy. "We believe that smoking is the driver of our health care costs. A person who smokes has chosen to do that," said Gannon, a non-smoker who said both her parents died of smoking-related illnesses. "The public is really paying."

Critics say Gannon's new policy infringes on personal liberties. The move is "outright discrimination," said Sid Dinerstein, chairman of the Republican Party of Palm Beach County. "If you can pick on people because they smoke, you can pick on people because they eat fatty foods. … You can go down a very long list of telling people how they should live their lives."

It is well-established that smoking and other uses of tobacco cause cancer, heart disease and lung disease. Cigarette smoking leads to $96 billion a year in health care costs and more than 400,000 deaths annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Gannon said she did her legal research before enacting the policy. The Florida Supreme Court in 1995 upheld North Miami's ban at the time on hiring smokers. Gannon's new policy is patterned after other local government and business actions to phase out employee smoking.

The City of Boca Raton doesn't hire smokers for its police or fire departments or other union positions, and Sarasota County stopped hiring smokers in 2008. Broward County government workers who smoke this year face new surcharges that could add $520 a year to premiums deducted from employees' pay.

Not hiring smokers is a "positive step" that encourages people to give up smoking, said Brenda Olsen, CEO of The American Lung Association of Florida. "It is not a constitutional right for people to smoke," Olsen said.

Reference: Tax Collector's Office won't be blowing smoke New hires will have to pledge they don't use any tobacco products, by Andy Reid (abreid@SunSentinel.com), South Florida Sun Sentinel, 10/1/2009.

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