U-Haul has become the latest major American employer to stop hiring smokers and other nicotine users.
The policy, which takes effect on Feb. 1, won’t apply to current employees. It also won’t impact U-haul rental locations because workers at those facilities are employed by the locations’ owners, not by U-Haul.
Georgia is among the 21 states where such a hiring practice is legal. The company has employees throughout Atlanta, including at a recently opened truck maintenance and regional marketing hub south of Six Flags Over Georgia.
The company’s decision makes it only the most recent in a long line of businesses which, beginning in the 1980s, have taken measures to either strongly discourage or outright ban smoking by customers. The trend shows no sign of slowing as restrictions on tobacco use grow more stringent nationwide and public health officials encourage companies to go smoke-free and help workers quit nicotine.
At U-Haul, leaders say the decision was about health. Companies with such policies can also see decreased health insurance costs. Some businesses that hire smokers make them pay more for health insurance.
“We are deeply invested in the well-being of our Team Members,” Jessica Lopez, U-Haul chief of staff, said in a written statement. “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.”
A company spokesman was unable Thursday to provide a total number of employees U-Haul has in Georgia. The company employs 30,000 people in the U.S. and Canada.
Other companies beat U-Haul to the punch. Way back in 1986, Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting became one of the country’s first big employers to stop hiring smokers. Lockheed Martin in Marietta also stopped hiring smokers in 1994.
But the rules can only be enforced in 21 states. Three decades ago, 29 states and the District of Columbia responded to bans like Turner’s by passing laws that prohibit discrimination against smokers. The laws had strong backing from tobacco lobbyists and the American Civil Liberties Union at the time, according to The New York Times. Workers rights groups have also called banning smoking a “slippery slope” that could lead to policing other lawful behavior by employees, such as drinking.
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