The city of Dayton, Ohio, is considering imposing a monthly surcharge on its non-classified employees who use tobacco products starting January 1, 2026. This proposed ordinance aims to set compensation for city employees not part of a union and has already seen its first reading, signaling that a vote could be imminent.
It is worth noting that this is not the first time Dayton has taken measures to ban smoking within its workforce. Four years ago, the city made headlines by announcing that it would no longer hire workers who used nicotine or tobacco. Pre-employment screening processes were introduced to test potential candidates for these substances, and those testing positive were offered participation in cessation programs. Although some job candidates tested positive during this period, the policy was upheld, and the number of employees using tobacco products decreased. It is worth noting that these employees are being penalized and discriminated against for using legal adult products.
The city’s proactive approach to curbing tobacco usage reflects a larger trend nationwide, with many employers and insurers instituting penalties for employees who smoke and vape, including higher insurance premiums. Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies are permitted to charge smokers up to 50 percent more than nonsmokers.
Critics argue that imposing a surcharge on smoking employees may be considered discriminatory or infringing on personal freedoms. The 14th Amendment to the US Constitution protects citizens equally under the law. This move by Dayton runs counter to protecting their citizen’s constitutional rights to equal protection by creating a particular class of employees that is taxed extra due to their personal choices outside of work. It is still being determined now what non-compliance will be met with.
It remains to be seen if unionized workers will also be subject to this policy. The city and the firefighters union have drafted a proposed collective bargaining agreement, but details about a nicotine and tobacco surcharge have yet to be released. Dayton Public Service Union, AFSCME Local 101, the city’s largest union, is actively engaged in negotiations and unable to provide specifics at this time. We encourage Dayton, Ohio, and union officials to stand up against this proposed ordinance. This ordinance threatens employees’ personal choices and disregards their right to be treated equally under the law.
The proposed surcharge on smoking employees in Dayton brings to the forefront the ongoing debate over alleged health policies, individual liberties, and employer responsibilities. This move is another government policy built to make adults exercise their free consumer choice rights into social pariahs or even criminals. This policy also aims to encourage those who do not smoke to ostracize those who choose to use tobacco products. As the city moves forward with its decision, it will be crucial for other governments to respect the choices of its workforce and stay out of personal, non-work-related decisions.