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County’s anti-nicotine hiring policy will apply to non-smokers

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Flagler County officials have a message for tobacco users looking to work for the county: We’re not hiring, ever.

Beginning next month, all job applicants must pass a nicotine test.

A failed test would automatically disqualify a candidate and prevent him or her from working for the county for one year. The move comes under the guise of reducing the cost of health insurance as it relates to tobacco use.

Conflating tobacco use and nicotine with costs associated with smoking is bad policy, said Gregory Conley, a volunteer legislative director for Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives.

“Mountain climbing has a far higher risk of death or injury than smoke-free nicotine usage,” said Conley. “But there are no public employers banning mountain climbers from gaining employment.”

CASAA is an Alabama-based advocacy group dedicated to protecting access to “reduced harm alternatives,” including electronic cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, the use of which would trigger a failed nicotine test under Flagler County’s new hiring ban.

The tobacco-free workforce policy applies to “anything that would produce nicotine,” said Joseph Mayer, Flagler County’s director of community services.

But statistically, smoking — not nicotine — is the overwhelming cause of tobacco-related health problems.

According to the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking causes an estimated 443,000 deaths each year, some 49,000 deaths because of secondhand smoke.

Other forms of tobacco pale in comparison, though “tobacco use” has become a synonym for smoking.

“Tobacco-free workforce policies simply punish people who are addicted to nicotine,” said Conley.

That probably includes electronic cigarettes, even though e-cigarettes are not a tobacco product.

E-cigarettes simulate smoking by vaporizing a liquid solution that often contains nicotine.

“Vaping” does not contain the tar or carbon monoxide commonly found in cigarettes, and ironically, can even help smokers quit cigarettes.

That fact, however, did little to dissuage the city of Duluth, Minn., from banning the e-cigs, and using them in Flagler could cost a qualified candidate a job under the county’s new zero-tolerance policy.

It’s also unclear whether the use of nicotine gum or nicotine patches is acceptable under the new policy.

“If they’re on a program and trying to quit smoking, if they’re in a smoking cessation program we’re going to look at that,” said Mayer.

A more equitable solution would depend on Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, Flagler County’s health insurance provider.

Florida Watchdog contacted BCBS of Florida multiple times for information regarding tobacco use and whether the insurance company differentiates between tobacco products when determining premium rates.

Though it failed to answer our questions, it did forward the name of a community health organization, called AHEC, which handles the company’s smoking cessation program.

NCI, the CDC and other health institutions indeed recommend quitting all forms of tobacco. NCI also states that smokeless tobacco is not a safe alternative to smoking.

But should all tobacco use and nicotine products be equated with smoking, especially when doing so would effectively deny someone a job?

According to Conley, a carbon monoxide test would be more effective than a broad-based nicotine test. Carbon monoxide is a gas created while smoking and is present on one’s breath after tobacco use.

“Considering that 99 percent of all disease and death caused by tobacco is caused by inhaling smoke from cigarettes, punishing people who are using smoke free nicotine products – including Nicotine Replacement Therapy – is patently absurd,” said Conley.

Related: Florida county’s anti-nicotine hiring policy may be unconstitutional

Published with permission from Watchdog.org.

Contact William Patrick at [email protected]

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