Most reject hiring discrimination for smokers, obeseNews added by Benefits Pro on July 25, 2014

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By Dan Cook

Smokers and those who are substantially overweight — the obese — should pay more for health insurance. But when it comes to hiring these same categories of workers, most Americans do not believe employers should be allowed to discriminate against them.

That’s the high-level takeaway from a new Gallup poll of 1,000-plus U.S. adults. Gallup elicited attitudes toward smokers and the obese in two key areas: cost of health insurance and employment opportunities. Digging into the data, it appears that, when smokers and those who self-identify as overweight are asked the same questions, smokers are much more likely to jump to their own defense than are the obese.

Gallup said only small percentages of those surveyed believe employers should have the right not to hire job candidates based upon whether they smoke or are obese. Just 12 percent think obesity should be a factor in refusing to hire someone, while 14 percent said employers should be able to refuse to hire someone who smokes. These numbers haven't changed much since 2005, Gallup said, and the percent favoring discrimination against the obese has been steadily dropping from a high of 17 percent in 2008.

But when it comes to charging more for health insurance, public opinion takes a high swing away from supporting smokers and the obese.

“A majority of Americans, 58 percent, say that it would be justified to set higher health insurance rates for smokers,” Gallup reported. “Fewer Americans — but still a substantial minority, at 39 percent — say higher rates would be justified for those who are significantly overweight.”

Again, Americans have softened those views in the last decade, with higher cost for smokers dipping from a high of 65 percent, and from 43 percent for the obese.

When Gallup broke out the responses from self-identifying smokers and obese respondents, smokers tended to be much more tolerant of their status than did the obese.

“Smokers are much more likely than nonsmokers to oppose hiring discrimination and higher insurance rates for those who smoke,” Gallup found. Among nonsmokers, 66 percent said higher health insurance rates were justified for those who smoke. Only 26 percent of smokers agreed with the statement. Asked about employer's right to refuse to hire smokers, just 3 percent of smokers thought that was OK.

When the obese were asked the same questions, the results were quite different.

Nearly a third of them said they thought the obese should pay higher insurance rates, and 11 percent agreed that employers would be justified in not hiring them — almost the same percentage (12 percent) as reported by non-obese Americans.

Gallup's conclusions: “Most Americans oppose hiring policies that would allow companies to refuse to hire smokers or those who are significantly overweight. It is unclear if those views are because Americans do not think smoking and obesity negatively affect workplace performance or they simply reject discrimination of any kind in hiring.

“While higher health insurance rates are acceptable to more Americans, particularly for smokers, it is still a controversial idea, even though smokers have long had to pay higher life insurance rates. However, smoking and being overweight are associated with higher health care costs. The Affordable Care Act allows for higher insurance premiums for smokers, and while the majority of Americans say this type of policy is acceptable, nearly four in 10 say it is not.”

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