European Union: Employers Can Legally Discriminate Against Smokers

Companies in the European Union may legally refuse to hire smokers because EU anti-discrimination laws do not protect them, the European Commission said.

European Parliament member Catherine Stihler put a spotlight on the issue last week when she questioned the executive about it, commission spokeswoman Katharina von Schnurbein said.

Stihler, a Scottish Labor deputy, was responding to constituents' reports of an Irish call-center's job advertisement that said "smokers need not apply".

"Our anti-discrimination legislation for the workplace covers four areas — age, disability, religion or belief and sexual orientation. Then in general the rules cover gender and race, and that's it," said von Schnurbein, spokeswoman for Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner Vladimir Spidla.

"There are a lot of things this doesn't cover — you could say I don't want an alcoholic working for me, whatever," she said.

Schnurbein added there are no proposals to add on to the EU's anti-discrimination laws.

The number of smokers in the 25 EU nations and five EU candidate states dropped to 27 percent of the population last year, down from 33 percent in 2002, according to EU figures.

Ireland enacted a smoking ban in enclosed workplaces in 2004.