"This crosses the line. If a smoking habit doesn't affect your work, employers might be going a bit too far. You have to ask what's next," McEwen said. "They say smokers take longer and more frequent breaks—but that's a management issue, and [it's] on management to fix it." "If employees are getting up every 20 minutes to have a cigarette, you can tell them you don't like it, that this isn't the kind of work environment you offer. But you can't tell people what they can't do at home," agreed Gordon.
McEwen is concerned that policing employees' lifestyles can contribute to an uncomfortable work environment. "Who is really benefiting?" she asked. "Programs like that [which] allow employers to target their employees' off-duty activities encourage workers to blame each other for the high cost of healthcare," she said, adding that these factors can contribute to infighting and bullying among employees.
Who really benefits from stringent anti-smoking bans depends upon who you ask. Gordon asserts that employers aren't really looking for nicotine or cotinine (an alkaloid found in tobacco and metabolite of nicotine) when conducting screens—they're looking for higher odds of developing other health problems related to nicotine addiction.
Lena J. Weiner is an associate editor at HealthLeaders Media.