The Smoking Prohibition

In Town of Plymouth v. Civil Service Commission, 426 Mass. 1 (1997), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that a police officer hired after January 1, 1988 who smokes tobacco products shall be subject to mandatory termination. For positions subject to G.L. c. 31 the smoking prohibition includes any appointment whether provisional, temporary or permanent, full-time, part-time, intermittent or reserve, to a covered position from an eligible list established as the result of a civil service examination administered after January 1, 1988.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that based on the language used in G.L. c. 41, § 101A and the promulgated rules of the Personnel Administrator, termination was mandatory.

The purpose of the smoking prohibition is to prevent Massachusetts police officers and fire fighters from increasing their risk of hypertension and heart disease by smoking and, therefore, their eligibility for disability retirement benefits under G.L. C. 32, § 94. The prohibition does not apply to all civil service employees, but only to police officers and fire fighters who, because of the nature of their jobs, are already at high risk for developing hypertension and heart disease.

The Legislature appears to have made a policy decision, based on financial interests, that employment in these positions should no longer be open, after January 1, 1988, to persons who smoke tobacco products so that, over a period of time, police and fire departments will have a workforce free of a serious disease-causing addiction. It is common knowledge that tobacco smoking has been identified as a contributing risk factor in both of these conditions, and heart disease is a leading cause of disability retirement among public safety personnel. The Legislature apparently enacted C. 41 § 101A in an effort to reduce the number of police officers and fire fighters who obtain substantial disability benefits from public funds under G.L. c. 32, § 94, also known as the “Heart Law,” as a result of heart disease due to smoking.