Smokers need not apply? Fort Worth weighs the cost of tobacco use

Smoking

Credit: WFAA

Fort Worth is considering a hiring ban on people who use tobacco products.

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by CASEY NORTON

WFAA

Posted on April 17, 2012 at 6:59 PM

FORT WORTH — An employee's money-saving idea is one hot topic in Fort Worth. He wants the city to hire only non-smokers, and that proposal is getting a reaction from co-workers and City Council members.

City Manager Tom Higgins presented the idea informally as one of several possibilities to the Council at Tuesday's meeting.

Council member Frank Moss raised serious issues with the idea. "We may lose a lot of good people by excluding smokers," he said.

Mayor Betsy Price said the idea is under review by the city's legal and human resources department. She expects more information on cost savings, productivity and wellness programs at a May 7 meeting to address the city's health care strategy.

Price did not officially endorse the hiring policy that would exclude smokers, but she has been outspoken in the past about leading Fort Worth toward a healthier image and lifestyle.

"It's how I live my life," Price said, "but I don't impose my standards on anybody. We owe it to our taxpayers to be a healthier community."

Employment attorney Quitman Stephens said Texas law lets companies set their hiring policies. Smokers are not a protected group; that activity is considered a "choice."

The American Heart Association says companies are saving money by installing wellness programs, including smoking cessation. It says for every dollar spent on wellness, a company can save $3.50 in health care costs, or $16 in overall worker productivity. That accounts for sick time, death benefits, and more active employees.

Stephens says companies have also realized it's cheaper to hire non-smokers. He cited the Centers for Disease Control and the Mayo Clinic. "On average, it is $1,300 a year more expensive to hire a smoker instead of a non-smoker," he said.

Baylor Health Care System stopped hiring smokers on January 1, 2012. Baylor All Saints president Steven Newton told News 8 the hospital is already seeing benefits with a healthier work force.

Fort Worth is believed to be the first municipality to consider a hiring policy that would ban smokers.

E-mail cnorton@wfaa.com

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