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Smoke out

There's just no place for people who enjoy a good smoke.

Corporations are trying everything they can to get people to kick the habit already.

They're offering workers cessation programs, drugs to help fight the urge, and even refusing to hire people if they admit to having a ciggy butt now and then.

But, there may be one last safe haven for die-hard smokers everywhere: Small businesses.

TEENAGE SMOKER
Angela Rowlings / AP file

While large companies have done everything they can to alienate smokers, small business owners have been slow to adopt similar policies.

Okay, most businesses don't let their workers light up in the office or on the plant floor, but big firms are trying to regulate what employees do on their own time or during breaks.

The reasoning: unhealthy smokers are costing them big time when it comes to health care bills.

This is also the case for entrepreneurs, but they typically don't have the funds or the time to implement the programs and policies the mega firms have. (Check out last week's story on employer-sponsored smoking cessation programs in the New York Times.)

Small business owners are more concerned with getting through the day than what their workers are doing during off hours. But for those hearty and kind businesses that are actually offering workers health care benefits, the increase in costs is hard to ignore.

Soaring healthcare premiums are beginning to spur even the little guys to take a look at who's puffing away.

"What happening with larger corporations is starting to filter down," says Jack Bastable, the National Practice Leader Health and Productivity Management at CBIZ Benefits & Insurance Services.

"Smaller firms are now getting more aggressive," he says, and part of what's driving it are non-smoking employees who realize the drain smokers are having on their health benefits.

One big trend Bastable's seeing is small companies paying for pharmaceutical options to help workers quit, including products such as the nicotine patch, for example.

And small business owners are starting to ask if they can refuse to hire or even fire smokers, he adds. While many entrepreneurs aren't ready to take that step yet, Bastable believes it will increasingly become an option.

Well, so much for the last safe haven.

Do you think entrepreneurs -- known for saying no to convention and brisling at the idea of people telling them what to do -- should be telling their employees what to do during their free time?