U-Haul decides to stop hiring nicotine users

I live in the rural Southwest, and the recent news that trucking company U-Haul has decided to stop hiring people who smoke cigarettes is a big deal around here. People with few financial options tend to be the ones who take jobs as truckers and the like; those tend to be the same populations who smoke.

On this first week of the new year, U-Haul announced that it will no longer hire people who smoke or vape nicotine (or use it some other way) in the 21 states where companies are allowed to consider tobacco use when deciding whether or not to hire someone.

U-Haul has 30,000 employees in the U.S. and Canada. The new policy does not apply to current employees, and the new rule won't even apply to job applicants in most states.

But it's kind of a big deal.

In the Atlantic today, Amanda Mull writes about about U-Haul's decision, and how "workplace wellness" programs, in her words, "seek to control the personal lives and choices of all workers, but especially those with few job options and financial resources.

"Refusing work to tobacco users is an extreme measure, but it's not unheard of in the United States," Mull writes in the Atlantic:

The issue with this approach is that it positions personal responsibility as a solution to problems that have little to do with individual choice. Codifying wellbeing into a competition with cash prizes—let alone using "wellness" as a criteria for hiring in the first place—posits that every worker can and should be striving for a particular set of (employer-determined) physical and mental goals that they could all reach if they just tried.

In reality, individual health is largely a product of wealth. Money buys nutritious food, good medical care, safe housing, and clean water. In the case of smokers, it can buy services and medication to help them deal with a notoriously difficult addiction, and healthier substitutes for the stress relief that many of nicotine's 47 million U.S. users say the drug provides. It buys better childhood education, which helps prevent people from picking up smoking in the first place. Nearly 90 percent of smokers start before they're 18 years old.

That means that the people who still use tobacco in America—the people U-Haul will no longer hire whenever it's avoidable—are largely those born poor or working-class, and largely those who aren't white. Those are the same people who are more likely to be overweight than their wealthy counterparts, which also makes them a target for employers' strict restrictions on the size and shape of their bodies. As tobacco use has become less common in wealthier, whiter demographics, its use has become a more popular justification for punishing poor people in many facets of life. Not only is nicotine grounds for employment discrimination in nearly half of America, but smoking can also be an excuse to evict low-income and disabled residents from public housing.

Go read the full piece here.

Workplace Wellness Comes for the Working Class: U-Haul is the latest American company seeking more control of its employees' lives.