- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2006

BRUSSELS (AP) — 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 EU’s executive panel about it, commission spokeswoman Katharina von Schnurbein said.

Miss Stihler, a Scottish Labor lawmaker, was responding to constituents’ reports of an Irish call center’s job advertisement that said “smokers need not apply.”

“The commission is not against recruiting workers who smoke, but we have to stick to European legislation. 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 Miss von Schnurbein, spokeswoman for Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner Vladimir Spidla.

“Smokers are not included in that list. 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.

Miss Schnurbein added that no proposals have been made to add 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 of 450 million last year, down from 33 percent in 2002, according to EU figures.

Ireland enacted a ban in enclosed workplaces in 2004.

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