‘There’s got to be a line’: U-Haul’s decision not to hire smokers

U-Haul will not hire smokers

BOSTON — Smoking can ruin your health, but starting next month, it can ruin your prospects for employment at one of America's most iconic companies: U-Haul.

“Smoking is a bad habit, terrible habit. I agree with that. But it’s not illegal,” smoker Dan Dawes argues. “So I don’t see how they can deny someone employment based on use of nicotine.”

But they can.

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In fact, it is perfectly legal for employers to turn away applicants who admit to using nicotine in 21 states -- including Massachusetts. In some of those states, it’s even legal to test employees for nicotine use.

“It’s been associated with a number of different cancers, not the least of which is lung cancer,” Brigham and Women’s Doctor Edward Boyer said. “Most people would probably agree total eradication of tobacco use is probably beneficial as a population-based measure to improve health.”

Doctor Boyer is an emergency department physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. He suggests there's a big financial incentive to screen out smokers.

"The simple construction for me is, 'do you save money on health care costs by doing this?' And, I think, the answer's gotta be yes. Because of the well-recognized and widely-known health risks," he said.

Not only are smokers more susceptible to the chronic, costly and debilitating disease, but some studies also suggest they are more prone to traffic accidents because smoking is a distraction. They could also be more likely to engage in risky behaviors.

In announcing the change, U-Haul’s chief of staff summed it up like this: “nicotine products are addictive and pose a variety of serious health risks. This policy is a responsible step in fostering a culture of wellness at U-Haul, with the goal of helping our team members on their health journey.”

Dan Dawes smokes and he sees U-Haul's point...to a point.

"Now, I could see them saying they don't want their drivers smoking on the road or smoking at the office or near the building," he said.

The problem Dan, and other smokers we spoke with, have is the ‘how far can this go’ question. They say there are myriad other private activities companies could clamp down on in the name of good health.

“Would they keep you from employment if you ate too much sugar, if you had a drink now and then. I mean I guess there’s gotta be a line drawn somewhere,” Dawes said.