By Scott Tibbs, January 17, 2014
The Indiana state legislature is sure to generate controversy with a bill designed to repeal the "smokers bill of rights" law passed in the 1990's. House Bill 1029 would eliminate the ban on employers considering whether someone smokes when making employment decisions, allowing employers to not hire smokers or fire people for smoking.
I support this legislation.
In general, government should stay out of personnel decisions made by a private business. If a business decides that it does not want to risk the higher healthcare costs brought on by smoking, that business should be free to make abstaining from tobacco a condition of getting or keeping employment. On the other side, government should not penalize private businesses for hiring or retaining smokers.
Government, however, should not be allowed to discriminate against merit employees for using a legal product in private. Government should be more restricted than private business in making these personnel decisions.
The market should determine whether or not this is a good idea. Businesses who terminate or refuse to hire smokers may well miss out on the most qualified people for the position, lose those qualified employees to competitors, damage employee morale and risk a backlash (including boycotts) from customers who disagree with the policy. I would personally be less likely to patronize a business that discriminates against smokers. The legislature should not have gotten involved in these decisions in the 1990's and it would be wise to reverse this policy now.