Article 25

The Cost of Picking Your Nose

In Uncategorized on 08/12/2013 at 11:01 am


Dear Unemployed Lawyer:

I have a friend who is a nurse for a privately owned hospital. The hospital is moving to a new location. When the new hospital opens, all the nurses will have to re-apply for their jobs and take tests to prove that they don’t smoke cigarettes. Is any of this legal; and if so, how did we get to this point?

Happy Happy Hippocrates

Dear Happy:


It’s legal in Ohio, which has become something of a vanguard of anti-smoking policy since voters overwhelmingly approved the Ohio Smoke-free Workplace Act in 2006. In 2007, the Cleveland Clinic became one of the first health-care institutions to stop hiring smokers.

Miami University in Oxford recently became a smoke-free campus, meaning you are not allowed to smoke in your own car.

And as Ohio opened its doors to casinos, not only was it the first state to open smoke-free casinos, but most of the casinos (I cannot confirm all did) included nicotine in its employment drug tests.

Think about that a minute. If you want a relatively low-wage job at a casino in Ohio, scamming old people out of their children’s inheritance, you cannot be one of those addicted reprobates who smokes evil cigarettes – or wears a patch, or dips, or vapes e-cigs. How did we get to this point, Happy?

Your friend could always move

Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia – including our neighbors Indiana and Kentucky – have smoker protection laws. When smoker-hiring bans first started a couple decades ago, the tobacco industry and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) worked on enacting state laws essentially making smokers a “protected class.”

There is no such federal protection. Even adding “addictions” to the Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t appear to cover nicotine addicts.

Statistics, damn statistics

The popularity of smoking has declined rapidly, from a peak in 1965 of 42 percent of adults to about 19 percent today, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But smokers still cost employers $193 billion in health bills and lost production each year. One in five deaths in the United States are “smoking-related,” the CDC estimates.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Getting everyone to quit smoking is win-win for Job Creators and their minions and the American economy. Kill those weak-minded, lower-class zombies before they kill us.

But why stop there?

Fantasy football costs employers anywhere from $6 billion to $18 billion a year in lost production, according to a 2012 report by Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Obesity annually costs employers from $73 billion (according to a 2010 study) to $153 billion (according to Gallup in 2011) just in lost productivity.

What other things cost Job Creators money from lost production, according to various studies, including the Centers for Disease Control? Well, drinking alcohol costs them $220 billion per year, with at least $160 billion resulting from lost production because of hangovers.

Non-engagement with their jobs costs employers $550 billion annually. Parents stressed out about child care costs $300 billion. Insomnia, $63 billion. Excessive commuting, $90 billion. Care for aging relatives costs $33 billion. Changing computer passwords, $16 billion. Email spam, $21 billion. Facebook, $28 billion. Coffee breaks costs $161 billion. The Super Bowl costs $1 billion.

Brad Plumer, in the Washington Post‘s Wonkblog, estimates that all these human-type issues cost employers almost $2 trillion each year.

“No one’s ever done a rigorous study of all these supposed productivity-killers,” Plumer says. “A new study finding that spam or yawning or picking your nose costs billions of dollars in lost productivity might make for good headlines. But it rarely tells us anything useful about the economy.”

Is it really about the money?

Paul Terpeluk, medical director of Cleveland Clinic’s employee health services, said in an interview last year that the decision to not hire smokers had nothing to do with saving money.

“Having health-care providers and caregivers model healthy behaviors was really the goal,” he said. “We heard from patients who said they did not like nurses to smell like cigarettes. Caregivers are different. They have to meet a higher standard.”

And nurses are especially vulnerable, because they’ve been identified as the weakest of all health-care professionals, with higher rates of addictions, depression, obesity and, of course, largely female and first-generation college graduates.

There’s no data on how many U.S. businesses won’t hire smokers, but the trend appears strongest with hospitals, says Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute, a non-profit offshoot of the ACLU that opposes the hiring bans.

As an unemployed lawyer who also enjoys tobacco, I can say with certitude that unemployment is far more ruinous to one’s health (and the nation’s economy) than a bunch of damn cancer sticks.

Never take the advice of an Unemployed Lawyer. Always consult with an attorney for any legal advice in your situation. If, however, you want to ask, write to

  1. I used to work with a guy who chewed. That may sound OK until you realize that it was at a college campus movie theater/entertainment space. He kept his cup o’ spit on a shelf under the popcorn machine in our rather dark snackbar nook. Guess how many times I accidentally picked that damn cup up when I meant to reach for the filthy money, haz-mat popcorn flavoring, or other useful object? YES it was gross, and if I didn’t love him to death I would have turned him in to the authorities — our boss, a descendant of Vikings who hailed from Minnesota, who hated all things unclean.

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