By David Highfield

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — It’s a trend that won’t make smokers happy, being charged more for health insurance.

It will soon be happening for some workers in Westmoreland County.

If you’re a smoker and work at the Westmoreland County Courthouse, or another county office, you can only smoke in designated areas outside.

Now comes another new rule for smokers — non-union goverment employees will be charged a $600 surcharge on health insurance next year.

“To be clear, this is not about singling out one group or punishing any one group. It’s about making them healthier,” said Westmoreland County Commissioner Ted Kopas.

Kopas also tells KDKA that it will help lower rising health care costs, and the county is offering classes to help smokers kick the habit.

Jack Lipnicky doesn’t work for Westmoreland County, but he is a smoker and doesn’t think the surcharge or classes will push smokers to stop.

“No, I don’t think so, because we know that it’s bad,” Lipnicky said. “A comedian once said you could put the word ‘death’ on a cigarette and people are still going to smoke.”

Health insurance expert Jim McTiernan, from Arthur J. Gallagher and Company, says Westmoreland County is not alone with this move.

“It’s more than a trend. It’s really of almost the norm,” said McTiernan. “In fact, you pay higher premiums under the Affordable Care Act on the exchange if you’re a tobacco user.”

He says there’s proof smokers wind up costing more.

“The science will show someone who uses tobacco will cost more in medical costs over their lifetime,” McTiernan said.

The change won’t apply to a worker who may smoke a cigar while golfing. This is for someone who smokes four times a week. It’ll be on the honor system.

The commissioner says the next step is to talk to unions about this.

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