Indiana is one of 29 states with smokers' rights laws.

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INDIANAPOLIS — If you're looking for a job in Indiana, prospective employers can't ask you to stop smoking cigarettes to be hired.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce wants the state lawmakers to change that.

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If passed, Indiana House Bill 1029 would eliminate a so-called smokers' bill-of-rights law approved in the early 1990s. Employers would be able to require job-seekers to stop using tobacco products at all times as a condition of employment.

Indiana is among 29 states with smoker-protection laws. In states without such protections, employers — particularly hospitals — are increasingly refusing to hire smokers.

For employers, it's a dollars and cents issue, said Kevin Brinegar, president and chief executive of the state chamber. Smokers significantly raise health-care costs.

"We think that repealing this legislation would give employers more of an ability to impact the overall incidence of smoking in Indiana and get a better handle on their own health-care cost," he said.

Rep. Wes Culver, a Republican from Goshen, Ind., said the measure would help business better control costs.

The smokers' bill of rights takes away business' freedom to consider potential workers' smoking habits before hiring them.

"The right should rest with the business owner and not the smoker," said Culver, who agreed when the chamber asked him to introduce the bill.

He said nonsmoking employees who pay health insurance premiums should appreciate that they would not subsidize smokers' care costs.

The National Workrights Institute, a nonprofit offshoot of the American Civil Liberties Union, has opposed such hiring bans, saying they infringe on individual rights. Representatives of the ACLU's Indiana chapter could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

One smoker at Spykes Bar & Grille near Clermont, Ind., takes issue with the bill.

"Yes, I do think it's going too far," said Frank Pellerito, 43, who owns a home-remodeling business in Indianapolis. "Whatever I do on my own time is my time."

He understands regulations preventing him from smoking at work but said he should be able to decide for himself whether to smoke on his own time. And that shouldn't stop him from getting a job.

Removal of smoker protections in Indiana could have a huge effect. Indiana has a high smoking rate — 21.2% among adults. In 2011, that was ninth highest in the USA and above the U.S. average of 19%. A 2012 Ball State University study found that smoking costs the state nearly $2.6 billion in productivity losses and $2.2 billion in health-care costs each year.

The bill to repeal Indiana smokers' rights has been assigned to the House Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee, chaired by Rep. Doug Gutwein, a Republican from Francesville, Ind. He couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday about whether his committee will consider the bill.

Some health and smoking cessation advocates, though, aren't eager to take sides.

The American Heart Association, American Lung Association and Tobacco Free Indiana Coalition have not.

"This really isn't a health issue, tobacco control or cessation issue," said Lindsay Grace, coalition chairwoman and spokeswoman for the lung association in Indiana. "This is really an employer and labor issue."

On its website, the American Lung Association nationwide says it does not support smokers' rights laws.

"We want to help people quit smoking, but we don't feel that this particular bill will do that." Grace said she doesn't know of any scientific evidence that shows these laws help people quit smoking.

In recent years, many employers in Indiana and elsewhere have imposed a health insurance surcharge on employees who smoke.

Brinegar recognizes that not everyone will favor repealing the legislation, which could be tabled but must face committee hearings, a vote of the full House, state Senate committee hearings and passage in the Senate before it is presented to the governor for his signature.

"At a minimum, we want to start the conversation and hopefully make progress on this legislation," he said.

Contributing: USA TODAY

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