Job seekers looking for work with Doylestown Township will need to snuff out the cigarettes and chewing tobacco.
That's because the township recently approved a personnel policy that would bar tobacco users from employment.
Township supervisors wanted to make sure they were on solid legal ground before they took the step of hiring only nicotine-free employees.
"Is there any liability to that?" Supervisor Ryan Manion asked when the board first considered the changes in April.
Their lawyer said the policy was legal in Pennsylvania.
"Smoking or non smoking has never been recognized as a protected class," township solicitor Jeff Garton told the board.
Pennsylvania is among 21 states that have no specific workplace discrimination protections for smokers. Legislators in 29 other states and the District of Columbia, however, have passed laws "elevating smokers to a protected class," according to the American Lung Association, which opposes such laws.
In Doylestown Township, any new government employee will be required to not use tobacco, which includes smoking cigarettes or using chewing tobacco or any other form, Supervisor Barbara Lyons said Tuesday.
This would apply both at work and at home.
The requirement will affect any new employee hired after January 1, 2012. The township doesn't plan to hire additional employees now, but township manager Stephanie Mason said they wanted the new policy in place when a position became vacant.
Current employees would not be forced to comply with the new policy, Garton said.
"Anyone who currently is employed who puffs away can continue to puff away," he said.
The five township supervisors - all Republicans - voted unanimously on May 1 to approve the policy, but one resident spoke out against it.
"I heard with concern the mention that after January 1 of this year, smokers are not eligible for employment," said Peter McLaughlin, a township resident who often attends supervisors' meeting.
"You’re doing yourself out of a smart, talented labor pool," he warned.
"Yeah, but we’re going to save a lot of money on our health policy," Lyons responded.
On Tuesday, Lyons said the township doesn't have hard numbers yet but expects to save at least 5 percent on its healthcare costs over the first 18 months that the policy is in effect.
McLaughlin also questioned how the township would know if someone was a closet smoker.
"It’s what the police chief would say is an unenforceable law," McLaughlin said.
A Growing Trend
Many employers offer wellness plans to encourage employees to lose weight or stop smoking. The move to ban tobacco users from employment completely, though, is a newer but increasingly more common approach to reducing healthcare costs.
Lyons said she got the idea for the township policy after reading about a hospital in the Midwest that decided to hire only smoke-free employees.
"It just makes sense, given everything we know now" about the harmful effects of tobacco, Lyons said.
Last year, the health insurance giant Humana decided to stop hiring tobacco users, following in the footsteps of the Cleveland Clinic, which stopped hiring smokers and other tobacco users in 2007.
Humana and the Cleveland Clinic both test new employees for nicotine use during a pre-employment urine drug screen.
Dr. Paul Terpeluk, Cleveland Clinic's medical director of Employee Health Services, explained the move in an op-ed piece for USA Today in January.
"We not only treat disease, but we also play a vital role in educating patients and employees about lifestyle choices," Terpeluk wrote. "It is only right to practice what we preach."
A USA Today editorial had argued that the ban was a step too far.
"If employers routinely reject people who engage in risky, but legal, behavior on their own time, what about such things as overeating or drinking too much alcohol?" the editorial read. "If smoker bans reduce health care expenses, cost-conscious employers might be tempted to stake out new and even more intrusive territory under the "wellness program" banner."
As for Doylestown Township, Lyons said no decision has been made yet about pre-hire testing for nicotine use. They will work with their insurer to determine the best course before any new job openings are posted, she said.
So what do you think? Should local businesses or local governments - which pay their employees' healthcare costs with public tax dollars - refuse to hire smokers?