Businesses won't hire smokers

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Joe Schwerin wishes he never started smoking at the age of fifteen.

"It's hard to quit," he says. He's tried, and failed. When it comes to work, on the other hand, he's had a lot of success. Schwerin considers himself a stellar employee.

But it looks like a growing list of employers would disagree.

In recent years, smoking bans have swept the country, and now smokers are facing exile themselves as companies begin to implement tobacco-free hiring policies.

They're doing it because smoking or exposure to second hand smoke causes 443,000 deaths a year, and its costs the country's employers $193 billion in bills and lost productivity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Restaurants and bars in North Carolina banned smoking in January of last year, and there are already studies linking a decrease in heart attacks to that.

Now companies, mostly hospitals so far, are citing similar research, saying they have the right to choose employees who are healthy - who won't have a negative impact on their bottom line.

"I can understand that, but at the same time, the first legitimate point is, it's legal to smoke," says smoker Leroy Bennett, and his point could land companies in court. "If you're going to ban people from smoking you should ban people from selling them."

Bennett thinks this is pure discrimination.

And once it starts...Schwerin wants to know...where will it end?

"What if businesses turned around and said because you drink, you can't be hired," Schwerin asks. "We know there are a lot of people in the community from down low to way up high that have problems with drinking."

The American Civil Liberties Union thinks companies will actually target obesity next, because seriously overweight people cost them as much as smokers.