Leah Hunter, of Melbourne, enjoying a puff on the streets of Byron, believes it is discriminatory to employ people based on whether or not they smoke.
Leah Hunter, of Melbourne, enjoying a puff on the streets of Byron, believes it is discriminatory to employ people based on whether or not they smoke. DAVID NIELSEN

Lismore targets smokers

FUTURE smokers may no longer be seen out the front of their workplaces, because they won’t be working at all.

Australian health experts have asked whether moves in the United States, whereby some jobs are available only to non-smokers, will be picked up here.

“It’s been happening in the US for some time now. It’s a developing trend,” Professor Simon Chapman, from the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health, told The Northern Star.

From police and fire officer jobs in Massachusetts, to hospital positions in Tennessee, employers are refusing to hire smokers.

And in July last year a Federal US judge dismissed a claim by an employee after he was terminated for failing to pass a nicotine test.

With smoking already banned in Australian workplaces, purging smokers completely is arguably the last frontier to get people to quit, short of making the activity illegal.

However, the hard line against smokers being pushed by some American bosses has yet to take hold here.

Ron Rathborn, general manager of Tursa Employment and Training, said Northern Rivers employers weren’t as zealous as their US counterparts towards smokers.

“We have many thousand of clients and there has been no pattern of behaviour,” he said.

“We haven’t noticed any particular trends.”

Professor Chapman said any attempt by Australian employers to shun smokers could breach anti-discrimination laws.

“Whether Australian employers could institute non-smokers hiring practices would hinge on tobacco addiction being considered a disability by the courts,” he said.

“If this were the case, not hiring individuals on the basis of smoking habits would be rule discriminatory.”

Leah Hunter, who was in Byron yesterday having a cigarette on the street, said it would be discriminatory if bosses only hired non-smokers.

“I don’t think anyone has the right to tell other people what to do,” she said.

“It’s each to themselves.”

It’s lucky for Ms Hunter she wasn’t trying to have a smoke in the Richmond Valley yesterday.

She was standing within 70 metres of a hotel, which is the distance smokers must be from a pub in the Richmond Valley Council area if they want to light up.

Last month Richmond Valley was the first Northern Rivers council to ban smoking on its beaches and in other public, outdoor areas.

Despite the wide ranging ban, mayor Col Sullivan said yesterday there were no plans to extend the smoking ban to its hiring policies.

While the Australian Federal Health Department last month banned its employees from smoking during the day outside their lunch break, the step of refusing to hire smokers has yet to take hold.

Richmond Valley mayor Col Sullivan said there were no plans for its anti-smoking stance to extend to its HR policy.

New South Wales prevents discrimination in employment on the basis of a disability. However it is unclear whether smoking, or perhaps nicotine addiction, would be classified as a disability for the purpose of the act.

Set up quit policy in the workplace

AS some workplaces overseas avoid hiring smokers, Australian organisations in the business of preventing cancer are taking a different approach.

The New South Wales Cancer Council, while encouraging its employees to quit smoking, has not gone as far as hiring only non-smokers.

“The Cancer Council would not support such a punitive policy that allows companies to refuse employment on the grounds of the person being a smoker,” Rory Janssens from the Council’s Alstonville office said.

“This would just demonise smokers and those who are trying to quit, which is unfair and unhelpful.

“It would be more effective for companies to combine policies that limit smoking with active support to encourage employees who smoke to quit.”

Lismore to target smokers

LISMORE City Council may soon ban smoking in public spaces, including on the street, with councillors to ask staff at its meeting tomorrow night to prepare a report on the proposal.

Cr Simon Clough, who is proposing the motion, said he would like to see a ban on outdoor smoking because of growing evidence of the health implications associated with passive smoking.

“I’m not trying to be a wowser, but we need to be aware of public health implications,” he told The Northern Star.

The move is part of a growing trend by local councils to ban outdoor smoking.

The Melbourne beside council of Frankston last month launched a six-month trial ban and will issue $110 fines.

Richmond Valley Council also effectively banned smoking in Casino’s COD last month when it prohibited it within 70 metres of hotels. It also prohibited smoking on its ocean and river beaches. However the council will initially push for smoker ‘education’ rather than on-the-spot fines.

Lismore’s Cr Clough would prefer to follow the Casino ‘education’ model rather than issue fines.

“If that doesn’t work then perhaps the next stage might be fines, but it is very difficult to give up smoking and I don’t want to see people punished for it,” he said.

Last year Lismore voted to ban smoking near the Base Hospital and bus shelters.

Cr Clough rejected the growing chorus of smokers who claim such bans were an infringement of their rights and an encroachment of the nanny state.

“The nanny state is about supporting people,” he said. “This is the opposite, it’s about stopping people, so let’s get our terms right.

“This is not an ideological issue about the nanny state or fascism; it’s just an issue that needs to be looked at.”

He said although research on second-hand smoke outdoors was not as comprehensive as on passive smoking in enclosed spaces, the emerging evidence of the danger was persuasive.

Cr Clough said as well as protecting children from unwanted smoke, the ban would reduce the littering of cigarette butts on the street and waterways.

Students cross at extended campus ban

SOUTHERN Cross University students got a bit of a shock when they logged on to their emails this week to find a directive that smoking had been banned in all paved areas on campus and within 10 metres of buildings.

“This has been done without the (student) union or post-grad association or any student I know of being consulted,” Student Association secretary Jim Moylan said.

“It’s one of a number of recent actions by the university administration that shows they have a mentality of rule by decree.”

The decision to ban smoking in all paved and concrete areas, and extending the existing smoke-free perimeter around all buildings was made by the university’s Heath and Occupational Safety Committee.

Mr Moylan said no students sit on this committee, but the university’s executive director, Malcolm Marshall, said there were two spots for representatives from the student body.

“I don’t know if those students were there, or if they spoke to the union, but this is simply an extension of our existing policy which did have extensive consultation when it was first adopted,” he said.

Mature age PhD student and operations manager for the post-graduate student association, Lynne Bertram, accused the university’s administration of being paternalistic and not allowing students to make up their own minds about smoking.

“They aren’t treating us like adults. I’m happy to respect non-smokers and will put one (a cigarette) out if they are offended by it, but this is ridiculous. Give us a smoking area,” she said.

She also said it was hypocritical to argue the ban was to reduce the health impacts of passive smoking, while it forced smoking students to stand on the oval in the rain if they wanted a cigarette.

Mr Marshall was unaware if there were any covered but unpaved areas where students could smoke in the rain. “I have not looked but I’m sure there would be somewhere,” he said.

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