In Europe and the United States, an increasing number of employers have adopted a smoke-free policy and may not hire people who smoke. This is because of the negative perception of smoking. Stanford researchers wanted to quantify just how large the economic burden of tobacco use is on the labor market. Their analysis suggests that after being unemployed, nonsmokers are twice as likely to get re-hired than smokers. Tobacco users also earn $5 less per hour on average than nonsmokers, but the causality remains unclear.
Previously, studies reported an association between smoking and unemployment. Judith Prochaska, an associate professor of medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine, wanted to investigate if smoking does indeed affect employment, at least in California.
Over a 12 months period, 251 unemployed job seekers in San Francisco and Marin counties in California were surveyed. Of these, 131 were daily smokers and 120 were nonsmokers. Study participants were 38.2 percent white, 35.9 percent black, 9.6 percent Hispanic, 7.2 percent Asian and 9.2 percent were multiracial or other race. Concerning studies, 31.1 percent had a college degree.
At the end of the one-year study when the researchers made their follow-up, they learned that only 27 percent of smokers had found jobs compared with 56 percent of nonsmokers. Moreover, smokers earned $5 less at an average of $15.10 per hour compared with $20.27 per hour for nonsmokers.
“The health harms of smoking have been established for decades,” said Prochaska, “and our study here provides insight into the financial harms of smoking both in terms of lower re-employment success and lower wages.”
“You don’t know if smokers have a harder time finding work or if smokers are more likely to lose their jobs — or that when nonsmokers lose their jobs, they become stressed and start to smoke,” said Prochaska.
In other words, there’s no clear causal link and the low sample size and geographical distribution doesn’t help that much. In light of other findings and anecdotal reports, there does seem to be a pattern for a sort of smokers discrimination in the job market. It’s worth noting that smokers were, on average, younger, less-educated and in poorer health than nonsmokers. Such differences might influence job seekers’ ability to find work, said Prochaska.
In the 1980s and ‘90s, several states filed suit against companies that denied applicants a job merely because they were smokers. This resulted in a law passed by 29 states and the District of Columbia that protect smokers from employer discrimination. In these states, an employer is not allowed to deny someone a job because the applicant uses tobacco. However, some nonprofits and health care organizations are allowed to deny applicants a job.
Safe states for smokers to get a job are Connecticut, District of Columbia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming. There are however 21 states that do not offer any protection whatsoever from smoking discrimination.
For instance, for a job at Alaska Airlines you have to pass a nicotine drug test to get employed. If you smoked in the past 90 days, you’ll fail the test. Employers may require job applicants to take and pass a pre-employment drug screen before they can join the workforce. These tests may look for marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine and other drugs in the system. Some also check for nicotine and employers are not mandated to tell the applicant that the pre-employment drug test screens for nicotine.
Reference: Judith J. Prochaska, Anne K. Michalek, Catherine Brown-Johnson, Eric J. Daza, Michael Baiocchi, Nicole Anzai, Amy Rogers, Mia Grigg, Amy Chieng. Likelihood of Unemployed Smokers vs Nonsmokers Attaining Reemployment in a One-Year Observational Study. JAMA Internal Medicine, 2016; DOI:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.0772