What’s next, some wonder — requiring obese workers to enroll in Weight Watchers?
But for Hyland (D-Mount Vernon), whose father smoked and died of lung cancer at age 50, all of that is beside the point.
“I think it’s time for us to get serious about this,” he said.
Smoking has been cast out from all manner of public life — restaurants and bars, offices and airports — banishing those who partake to the sidewalk. In Montgomery County, where smoking is prohibited near playgrounds and in the common areas of apartment buildings, a County Council member recently proposed banning smoking from all county property.
But Hyland’s idea represents a new front in the smoking wars: Instead of making the public domain smoke-free, some are pushing for it to be smoker-free.
In the workplace, tobacco users are often required to pay higher health insurance premiums, and in recent years, some employers have begun adopting policies against hiring smokers. Although the hiring restriction is most popular among hospitals and health-care organizations, it is becoming increasingly common in other industries, despite lawsuits, the objections of civil rights groups and smoker-protection laws.
In October, Delray Beach, Fla., adopted such a policy, saying that smokers were simply too expensive to maintain on the city payroll. The city’s decision relied in part on a 1995 Florida Supreme Court ruling that upheld a similar policy in North Miami.
Some workplaces require employees to sign statements confirming that they do not smoke; others use urine tests.
Although several anti-smoking and smokers’ rights groups said they were not aware of any employers requiring workers to take smoking-cessation classes, they said measures aimed at pushing out smokers are becoming increasingly popular in public and private workplaces.
“A lot of companies are moving in that direction for financial reasons,” said Dennis Alexander, with the American Lung Association. “It’s no secret that smokers cost employers more.”
In Fairfax, lighting up is prohibited at bus shelters and inside county buildings, and county employees are offered free, voluntary cessation classes. Hyland first floated the idea of making the classes mandatory at a board meeting last month. During a discussion about rising health-care costs, wellness programs and county health insurance, he suggested that the county investigate whether it has the legal authority to require the classes.
A county spokeswoman, Merni Fitzgerald, said the county’s attorneys are looking into that question. Other local government lawyers said the matter isn’t clear-cut. Although none was willing to say with any certainty that such a requirement could withstand a lawsuit, several said the county might have the authority to adopt the rule. The county also could ask the state’s General Assembly to specifically grant it the power to mandate cessation help.