Smokers Need not Apply

I recently came across the following “recruitment restriction” at the bottom a World Health Organizations (WHO) employment website.

  • Policy on Non-Recruitment of Smokers: WHO has a smoke-free environment and does not recruit smokers or other tobacco users who do not indicate a willingness to stop smoking. This policy underscores the Organization’s commitment to promoting a tobacco-free environment.

Immediately after the clause is a link to frequently asked questions on WHO’s smoking policy. All candidates who fill out the online application must answer two smoking related questions:

  • “Do you smoke or use tobacco products?”
  • “If you currently smoke or use tobacco products, would you continue to do so if employed by WHO?”

An affirmative answer to either of these questions will mean that the applicant will not be considered for selection. Keep in mind that this applies to newly recruited staff. If you were already a smoker by the time the policy was implemented, you can still smoke. The consequences for smoking following recruitment are vague, however. Violators will be treated as having falsified information on their application form and be subject to “disciplinary action”. No clue what that means.

So here’s the question. Is it OK for the WHO to restrict employment to non-smokers? After all, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that cigarette smoking accounts for 443,000 deaths in the US alone – that’s 20% of all deaths. But then what about alcohol? Surely, excessive drinking leads to many deaths as well – should the WHO ban heavy drinkers? Is it fair that healthy employees have to subsidize the health insurance policies of their unhealthy (by choice) colleagues? Is it your employer’s business what you do outside of the workplace? Where do we draw the line?


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