BLUF:  What is your opinion of screening applicants based on tobacco use?

As I look for a different career, I'm seeing large companies post "We don't hire tobacco users".  Fortunately that doesn't apply to me, but the concept of publicly rejecting a candidate based on something that does not necessarily reflect on abilities seems wrong.

In fact, those same companies' applications state that disclosing a felony won't necessarily prevent you from being hired. Surely smoking isn't as bad as a felony in predicting future job performance?

I understand the logic and economics of the decision, but it sure seems like a politically expedient means of eliminating medical cost, not necessarily a morally correct method.


timrutter's picture

Seems like another symptom of poor supervision. Supervisors not dealing with the outcomes and building the perception of smokers being lazy and time wasters rather than focusing on outcomes. Will we have "We don't hire social media users" in 10 years time?



Nil Desperandum Experto Crede

scm2423's picture

I wonder about the legality of this.  Except for the odd exception I don't see how being a smoker would affect my ability to do the job.  The hiring decision should be based on my ability to do the job.  Of course items like fit with the team play into this but I do not see how smoking could affect this. I once screened a candidate who had a criminal record, it was from a couple of incidents in his youth but we had to ignore it as it did not have any impact his ability to do the job.




jdbrown1998's picture

I know some cities have outlawed smoking in public places or are talking about it.  Combine that with fact that the job may be a 10 min round trip to walk outside and all the sudden if you have someone who is losing to much productivity to smoke (or at least in their opinion.)  I know at my workplace smokers used to have about 15-20 places to smoke on the grounds; it is now cut down to three and they are not conveniently located.  The decision makers have essentially decided that they do not care how inconvenient they are going to make it for smokers.  Unfortunately it has been decided that smokers have no rights. 

vjlyons's picture

Unfortunately, it does have an impact on a team. I have two smokers on my staff. They take 4 - 6 10 minute breaks per day, on the clock, in addition to their hour lunch. They meet the company's goals for their position (barely) but are the least productive members of my team. In regular reviews and O3s they have mentioned that they don't understand why they don't receive the same rewards as the rest of the team who on average outperform them by 25%. When confronted with the fact that they do less work and are often away from their desks when I am looking for them, they refuse to see their frequent smoking sessions as a drag on their productivity. I constantly field complaints from the non-smokers on the team about how much more of the work they do. When you add in the extra sick time smokers often utilize and the greater health care costs for older smokers, I fully understand a company's desire to minimize the number of smokers on staff.

edzaun's picture

For a company to screen based on tobacco use to determine more frequent time away from one's desk or higher health care costs as a viable strategy, logically they should also screen for asthma, pregnancy potential, special needs dependents and quite a long list of other factors that would distract an employee from doing their work. If the smoker performs well, then they perform well. If they perform poorly, then they must suffer the consequences. Most of the issues with smokers taking extra breaks is simply perception.

Let's take pregnancy as a comparison. When a woman becomes aware she is pregnant at the facility where I work (an oil refinery), she is immediately prohibited from going out into the yard, even if her primary responsibilities require her to be out there so accommodations must be made which often displace other people. That is six months or so of limited performance in her job duties. Once the baby is born, she can have up to 12 weeks away from work to recover and bond with the child, so another three months of no performance in her job duties. This definitely displaces one or more people because that job must still be done. There are also the occasional late shows, early leaves or unscheduled time off to attend to the child when they are sick or have a school play, etc.. If a woman has two children, she will spend an entire year or her time with the company in limited performance and half a year with no performance plus accommodations for child-care responsibilities without penalty.

Now compare this with the what VJLYONS cited as 6-10 minutes breaks per day non-smokers do not take ( I used the higher number to be fair). That is an hour a day of lost time. Assuming 230 working days (accounting for 10 holidays and 20 days vacation) per year that is 230 man-hours, or 23 days per year (4.6 weeks based on a 50-hour week). It would take a smoker 2.6 years to equal the time away from work for just the delivery and recover period of one pregnancy without taking into account the impact and lost productivity of time before coming to full term nor the impact after the woman comes back to work. The tends to come to the same amount of time, especially if both employees only stay with the company for five years or so.

Of course, the numbers for smokers are not absolute because they are not concurrent but pregnancy is. We all know about the cost of distraction and we also know that many experts urge us to take breaks to re-charge and improve concentration.

I am not trying to create controversy here and I chose pregnancy in my example for a reason. The difference between the two is current culture: Pregnancy is legally protected and smokers are pariahs. Make sure you are looking at the facts when deciding how much smoking affects work performance and not allowing personal feelings to enter the equation. If you are working on a problem, mulling it over in your mind, while away from your desk, why can't a smoker do the same? This reduces the "lost time" even further; the smoker is just taking that thinking time while doing something else rather than just staring off into space or going to the water cooler.


Ed Zaun

DiSC Profile 7-3-1-2

scm2423's picture

It seems that the feeling is that smokers take too many breaks and are less productive.  Treat this as an attendance/productivity problem and deal with it the same way you would deal with these issues with a non-smoker.  To label all smokers as less productive and  not work with them at all is the wrong way to address them issue.

Lastly I think the comparison to pregnancy is pretty good, Ed you mention that they are a legally protected group and you must make reasonable measures to accommodate them. I think the same is true when the person claims to have an addiction, it becomes a medical issue and you need to make a reasonable accommodation.  






Mark's picture
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But smoking is dumb, and I don't hire people who do dumb things repeatedly.

I also think tattoos are dumb, when they're visible, and I don't hire people who advertise doing dumb things.  ( I generally only hire people whose role would be not well served by a tattoo.  Kinda like the US Marines.

People who drink too much and put pictures on their Facebook page showing that are dumb.  I don't hire dumb people.

People who don't dress up for interviews are dumb.  Same criterion.

I'm not saying I'm right.  You may disagree.  You may think smoking isn't dumb.  That's cool.  Hire the smoker.



daveb's picture

The objections seem to be around the person doing legal but unhealthy things - "Stupid things" as Mark just put it. The stupidity is around doing something that's bad for your health

Fair enough - but if you're going to be consistent then I guess you need to ask whether people eat fatty foods - that is a stupid thing which is known to lead to heart disease. Perhaps not as bad as smoking - but it's a pretty high second. Before you go tarring me with being silly and using reductio ad absurdum arguments - there are people who would like to see fatty foods taxed higher, and banned in many places such as schools. Which is where the bans started that have turned smoking into such a anti-social thing. I don't think the comparison is THAT big a stretch.

Or you should consider whether they have a gym membership - and attend. Its well known that lack of fitness affects stamina and mental agility. Neglecting fitness, when you know that, is pretty dumb.

Sure - you can decide not to hire someone because they smoke and because you don't like that. But if you ignore other health indicators then don't try and pretend to yourself that you're making a rational decision. If you're not being consistant and considering other health indicators then you're not. You could be turning away the best person for the job that you'll ever meet- just because you don't like what they do in the evening when they have a couple of beers. There's nothing rational about the exclusion.

And that's fine. Stupid takes many forms.


[runs weaves ducks hides]

edzaun's picture

 This conversation has turned very interesting to me with valid arguments being made and contrasted with perception. As you may have guessed, I am a smoker so admittedly, my opinion is probably just as biased as those who oppose smoking. Mark chimed in with a strongly worded post which seems to me to contradict some of the principles of MT that I have gleaned over the years as a listener.

The core of MT is effectiveness. This concept has been taken to the expressed point of M&M stating they would get rid of a high performer if that person was destructive to team cohesiveness. It seems effectiveness is a key criteria above nearly all else.

Yes, smoking is not the smartest thing I have ever done. No questions there. I would also argue it does not affect my job performance or effectiveness as much as non-smokers who only see what they choose to see might think. In an oil refinery, as in other places, the areas where one may smoke are limited. When surrounded by things that like to burn, the wisdom of this becomes apparent and is not just a compromise between smokers and non-smokers. What many fail to understand is much business gets done in the smoking areas. I manage projects that are atypical to the norm. There is a long planning phase and then we execute the plan in an intense work period of 3 to 6 weeks. Many of the people on the execution side smoke. We discuss problems and solutions as well as updates on progress. Of course, those discussions could be held elsewhere but the fact remains; we are still working. Compare that to the employee who engages in on-line shopping, personal emails or other non-productive activities on company time.

DAVEB raises a good point about fatty foods and alcohol usage. Should we also filter potential employees by these criteria? Where is the line between work and personal? MT urges us to schedule personal time first and work second on our calendars, implying this distinction is important.

Mark has stated his aversion to hiring people who do "dumb" things repeatedly. I respect that. I am a rational anarchist at heart and believe in personal freedom of choice, despising equal opportunity laws that force choice based on non-work related characteristics. The problem is: "Dumb" things are not only evident at hiring. Would you fire a good performer who starts smoking after being hired? What about the person who becomes obese and therefore susceptible to the attendant health problems of being grossly overweight? I understand many will not hire fat people because of a perceived lack of discipline or motivation, so what happens when that condition changes after hiring.

By not hiring people who do "dumb" things repeatedly, I would have to reject everyone who practices any religious faith, including atheism. From my point of view, this demonstrates an inability to think critically, examine data and arrive at a defendable or reasonable conclusion. The business I am in also runs 24/7 and sometimes conflicts with religious obligation, regardless of my personal opinion. That leaves two business-related conflicts around religious practice. Would it be culturally acceptable (or even wise) to deny employment or terminate an existing employee based solely on their religious choices? Of course not. Not only would this be against the law, religion has a different perception in our society than does smoking or being overweight.

By the by, I am consistently a top performer (based on metrics and performance reviews), in large part because of what I have learned from being an MT listener. I respect Mark's opinion on this because the things I have learned from MT/CT and put into practice have made a serious impact on my job performance and opened doors that would have been locked tight. I also think rejecting people based on non-work related or impacting characteristics not effective. Maybe there is a cast in this? I know I would like to hear more about it, as the implications go far beyond smoking and might make people aware of scotomas they did not even know they had.

Ed Zaun

DiSC Profile 7-3-1-2

edcrawfordlv's picture

[ I hope Wendii doesn't smoke!]
I'm excited that you chimed in Mark!  Of course a candidate should avoid looking dumb to a hiring manager.  And the hiring manager should be allowed to use his or her discretion in determining if a candidate appears to be dumb.  But total elimination based on tobacco use? And memorialized as a sole elimination category in a job application?
What about the person who only smokes every now and then?  I know a semi-famous tri-athlete who will smoke a cigarette or a cigar during the post-race party but is extremely healthy all the rest of the time.
I don't have a problem with setting rules and conditions in a workplace.  We expect you to be professional, so you should dress professional in an interview.  We have a smoke-free workplace so don't show up to your interview smoking (plus it makes you stink).  We want to present a conservative image, so don't have a great big dangling nose ring.

I personally think smoking is dumb.  I think drinking alcohol is dumb and shows repeated poor judgement, even though many people who drink alcohol know of the consequences and actually seek out those consequences.  Lots of people find other interesting things dumb.  I can't imagine seeing those dumb things in writing on a job application.  But I do see smoking on those applications.

It seems to be 'cool' right now to discriminate against smokers, but that doesn't make it right.










wahiawagen's picture

Thank you great feedback, good stuff in here

Jackson's picture

That's slippery and I totally respect your point of view.  Our concern as leaders is to focus on the results of organization and the team.  Smoking isn't necessarily bad for the organization or the team.  With that said, imposing the results of your personal habits on to customers or colleagues is "dumb".  If you smoke and come back smelling or breathing stench then it's not good.  If you can control that then that's your business.  If smokers take too long breaks then not holding your people accountable makes the leader's lack of attention "dumb".

I would say that me being obese is dumb and I have to watch what I eat to manage that.  What's slippery is should I question hiring an obese person?  No, results matter more than these things.  President Obama smokes or smoked but I don't expect people to change their votes as a result.

I think cursing is "dumb" and I've had people curse in interviews (I didn't hire them).  I would still hire someone that used profanity assuming they could keep it out of work. 

I also would like to point out that people are not dumb, our behavior is dumb. :)

My closing thoughts:

"Successful people are simply those with successful habits" --Brian Tracy

markwalsh99's picture
Training Badge

 The OP asked for opinions; ask and ye shall receive.

When smokers go out to the smoking shed, it's highly-visible to everyone. Their highly-visible absence can engender bad feeling within the non-smoking community. Yet the ineffective time we all spend in the office is perhaps not quite as visible. I don't smoke, nor am I on Facebook, yet neither do I spend every single minute of every day being 100% effective, I'm afraid to say. Mea culpa.

I have, from time-to-time, transacted and/or networked with smokers by following them to the smoking shed in order to maximise my time. Furthermore, I know of many a smoker who has made business-related phone calls whilst pacing up and down outside the building smoking a cigarette. One could argue that those smokers are being more productive than the people in the office who are updating their Facebook status rather than performing their assigned duties. These are office-job issues; if your role is to fit the wheels to a car on an assembly line, it's difficult to do that when you're outside having a fag.

I thought that we valued diversity, yet it would appear that we're not being very tolerant about smoking. If companies screen-out smokers because of the belief that they will be less effective, then perhaps they do have data that suggests that smokers are less effective in those roles. Or, they might be using to minimise health-related costs in the same way that insurance companies load premiums for smokers.

It's also true that attitudes to smoking are changing. Whereas dumb is never going to go out of fashion....









GlennR's picture

I know a little more about this than most people here as I worked for a large nonprofit that has fought Big Tobacco since the 1950's.

Companies that don't hire smokers have made that decision for purely economic reasons. It has to do with the fact that smokers overall are sicker than nonsmokers which results in more insurance claims. Companies that pay a part or all of employees insurance benefits will save money by hiring only nonsmokers.

Remember when you purchased life insurance? You had to answer whether you smoked or not, right? And if you said,"yes," you're paying more in premiums. That's been going on for decades.

Now don't start in on drinking and weight-related issues. I'm not going to debate that. I am merely reporting the current state.

This issue is a personal one with me. My mother smoked for 40 years and died at least 10 years too soon (compared to the longevity of her nonsmoking parents and siblings) and in way too much pain.

If you're a smoker and you need help quitting, free help is available. In the US start with the American Cancer Society at 800-227-2345 or

Quitting smoking, like becoming an effective manager is not easy. But it can be done when you stay the course.




leanne's picture
Licensee Badge

Another point to consider, on the 'impact to the team' thing, is the *physical* impact on non-smokers.

I have friends who have migraine triggers that include cigarette smoke. In other words, the smell of cigarette smoke can trigger a migraine. I don't get migraines from the smell but I can get more minor headaches. I'm not sure how to deal with the headaches on my own, other than by leaving the room until my headache goes away or the cigarette smoke smell goes away...which isn't for very long because of how often the smokers go out. Which on days I'm more sensitive to the smell means I can get virtually no work done while trying to deal with *my* health issue because of *their* smoking. *My* productivity goes down because of *their* smoking. Not cool. (Especially since I'm one of the more productive folks on the team...)

The whole 'body odor' thing also does apply. In my experience, most smokers are totally unaware that other people a) can smell that they just smoked and b) don't like the smell. Or they don't care if their coworkers don't like the smell. Which is...not really that good towards team-building.

As to 'inconveniently located places to smoke' - the smokers in our buildings used to hang out around all of the entrances - whichever was closest to that particular smoker's desk. Which meant if you wanted to enter or leave the building, you walked through secondhand smoke. Sorry; I don't care if your smoking is somewhere inconvenient for you if it means I'm not risking *my* future health just to get to or leave work. *That's* why they're inconveniently placed, you see: Because if they're convenient, they're usually in the way of non-smokers TOO, and we don't *want* to be exposed to secondhand smoke without having any choice about it.

Most of the other things people have mentioned as dumb don't generally *directly* affect other people's health - being obese, drinking, etc does not generally cause other people to potentially suffer the same health issues. Just because a woman is pregnant doesn't, for instance, usually make someone else sick (and certainly doesn't make other people pregnant...).

Secondhand smoke *can* cause lung cancer, however.

*That's* why I don't want smokers; I feel like by smoking, they're not just playing games with their health, they're playing them with *mine*, unless they actively work to keep from doing so. Which most of them don't.

Then there's the littering issue: Many smokers seem to believe that tossing their cigarettes on the ground and squashing them is sufficient disposal protocol. Our smokers, anyway, thought it was fine to throw their stubs out onto the ground even with a special trash can with an 'ash tray' (sand) built into it right next to their elbow. Or they'd squash them out in the parking lot before getting into their cars. So now we've got that minor but annoying cost, for cleanup.



DiogenesPerez's picture
Licensee Badge

BLUF: Is their company and if you want a work there you better quit before joining (You got nothing until you get the job offer).

Maybe someone in HR or corporate thinks this looks like a cool way to attract non-smokers for many different I can only speculate.

People argue about different “time on station” which is not directly with good/bad performance, the worst performers can be non-smokers/Ironman runners that use their time surfing for races or training plans. Or also say insurance policies or sick days go down with non-smokers, which is not necessarily true as I’ve seen a non-smoker colleague in his 20s go for cancer treatment and again in no way related on how well a person can perform.