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County Won’t Hire Deputies Who Smoke

December 19, 2003  | 

In an effort to curb rising insurance costs, Riverside County in Southern California will no longer hire sheriff’s deputies who smoke cigarettes. The policy, if proved successful, could be extended to other county workers.

Governments across the nation are creating a trend by refusing to hire cigarette smokers, citing the relationship between tobacco-related health problems such as cancer and heart disease as reasons for the ban.

Law enforcement officers and firefighters receive generous workers compensation coverage when diagnosed with conditions such as cancer, heart problems, or pneumonia because it is presumed they have been caused by job stress, even if smoking may have been a contributing factor.

“Since taxpayers must pay the cost of these presumed conditions, in terms of worker comp benefits and disability requirements, we are seeking to control it as much as humanly possible,” says Ron Komers, director of human resources for Riverside County.

But some wonder if this is going to far, and if more frivolous restrictions may be imposed if this policy becomes the norm.

“A government agency cannot regulate what a person does at home as long as it’s legal, and to my knowledge, smoking is still legal,” says Ramona Ripston, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. “This is still America.”

It could also prove difficult to monitor and enforce the nonsmoking ban.

So far, courts have upheld smoking bans for government jobs. Fall River, Mass., Officer Wayne H. Jeffrey was fired for smoking at a party, off duty. The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled the officer’s termination legal.

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