Updated: 4/17, 6:58 p.m.
FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Businesses are doing it, hospitals are doing it, too; but will the city of Fort Worth be the next employer –– and first major city in the country –– to ban the hiring of smokers?
To find the origin of the suggestion, couple the fact that Mayor Betsy Price has said one of her goals is to have a healthier Fort Worth with a contest has city employees competing to find the best way to cut city costs.
“Certainly we put tax payer dollars into health care for our employees,” said Mayor Betsy Price. “And anything that might benefit the health and wealth and make our employees more productive and healthy we’re going to take a look at.”
During the Fort Worth City Council meeting Tuesday, members were briefed on a proposal to stop hiring people who use tobacco. It would also make city property completely smoke free and offer cessation programs to public employees.
Fort Worth City Manager Tom Higgins feels the idea is one that should be considered.
“Overall I think there was a strong belief that not only does it provide financial benefits for us and our health insurance, but to work with employees to get in a smoking cessation plan and just not to encourage it by hiring additional people,” he said.
But not every city leader is onboard with the idea.
“Non-smokers are probably healthier and probably would not use our insurance as much, but at the same time, excluding smokers I think is a real problem,” said councilman Frank Moss.
The private sector has already begun instilling similar practices. But the city already has a problem luring new employees from private businesses, causing concern among the council.
“I do have some concerns about a hiring policy that says you would not be able to hire a person that smokes,” Moss added. “I think we may lose a lot of good people in the process by exclusing smokers.”
City employees fear the overreach, as well.
“I think its more of the big brother type stuff,” said city employee, Fort Worth municipal worker representative and smoker Vince Chasteen.
For Chasteen, the subject is more about individual rights, and who’s excluded based on personal habits.
“Maybe they’re going to start checking people’s DNA to see if they’re susceptible to disease so they can take those off their health insurance,” Chasteen said. “I mean how far do you go to let government dictate what individual rights are?”
CBSDFW.COM visitors and KRLD NewsRadio 1080 listeners have left comments, both for and against the idea.
One person said, “It’s a slippery slope. What is it going to be next? Is it going to be refusing to hire people who consume alcohol?”
Arguing from a legal aspect another man commented, “People have a right to do what they want. The point is it’s not an illegal activity.”
But one woman thought the non-smoking measure wasn’t going far enough. “I love it. I think it is a great idea,” she said. “I also think they should expand it to folks with Type II Diabetes and high blood pressure.
There are questions about how the ban would be enforced. Some people are suggesting employees would likely take a drug test for nicotine.
But it takes several months for nicotine to get out of your system, and that also must also be considered –– what about those who have quit but still have traces of the drug?
Moss said the cost/benefit dynamic must also be considered. “I think it’s also gonna be important to look at how many staff people we have right now who are smokers.”
As it stands, the City of Fort Worth Human Resource Department is studying various healthcare policies, including those of employers like Baylor Health System.
On Jan. 1 Baylor began a new health program that includes charging current employees extra if they smoke and screening prospective employees for tobacco usage.
If the council considers the measure it would be at least a month before a vote.
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