Smoking Is Bad, Sure, and Most Smokers Feel Discriminated Against for Doing It

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A Gallup poll found that 56 percent of adult smokers in the U.S. feel they have been discriminated against in public life or employment, at least on occasion. Jeff T. Green/Getty Images

The number of adult smokers in the United States has decreased drastically over the past five decades, from 42.4 percent of the population in 1965 to 15.1 percent in 2015. In 2017, more than half of those who still smoke say they have felt discriminated against in public life or employment, at least on occasion, according to a recent Gallup poll.

The poll, conducted between July 5 and 9, included 147 smokers out of 1,021 adults from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., who were reached on a landline or cellphone for a survey about consumption habits.

It found that overall, 56 percent of smokers said they had been discriminated against, with 13 percent reporting they experience this on a daily basis, 8 percent saying it occurs once a week, another 8 percent saying it happens once a month, 13 percent saying they experience it a few times a year and 14 percent saying it occurs less than once a year. The remaining 44 percent of smokers said they have never felt discriminated against in public life or employment.

Though it seems respondents were not asked to elaborate on what kind of discrimination they have faced, Gallup explains that it might include smoking bans in such locations as parks and beaches, higher insurance rates and not getting hired. Though more than half of states have legislation that prohibits employers from discriminating against smokers, several do not.

A 2013 article in The New England Journal of Medicine said it’s getting harder for smokers to find jobs, citing organizations and companies that have adopted policies to not hire smokers, such as the Cleveland Clinic, Baylor Health Care System, Scotts Miracle-Gro, Union Pacific Railroad, Alaska Airlines and the World Health Organization (WHO). Several others have announced similar policies in recent years, including the Mountain States Health Alliance, based in Tennessee; the University of Pennsylvania Health System; the Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, Maryland; and WellSpan Health in Pennsylvania.

“WHO is at the forefront of the global campaign to curb the tobacco epidemic,” the organization writes in a fact sheet explaining its decision not to hire smokers. “The organization has a responsibility to ensure that this is reflected in all its work, including in its recruitment practices and in the image projected by the organization and its staff members.”

In July 2014, Gallup asked smokers about discrimination in relation to tax hikes on cigarettes. The poll found that 58 percent smokers felt unjustly discriminated against as a specific result of increased taxes on cigarettes, while 39 percent felt the taxes were justified and 3 percent had no opinion. Those results represented a 10 percent decrease in smokers who felt unjustly discriminated against because of taxes, compared with responses to that question in a 2002 poll.

In the current poll, Gallup compares the responses from smokers to those from adults who say they are overweight. Only 17 percent of those who said they were overweight have felt discriminated against in public life or employment at any frequency, a far lower rate than that among smokers.  

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It causes harm to almost every organ in the body and leads to disability and disease. The habit also costs the U.S. billions of dollars. Gallup has found that each adult smoker racks up an average of $2,132 more in health care costs each year, adding $92 billion to the country’s total health care costs. Gallup predicts that such cost factors, as well as secondhand smoke, contribute to discrimination.