One of New Zealand's major employers is looking at refusing to hire smokers, and Auckland Council bosses will consider banning smoking in central-city streets and at bus stops.

The Auckland District Health Board, which employs more than 10,000 people, is developing the controversial but lawful hiring plan. Nursing representatives say it's unfair.

Meanwhile, the Auckland Council will consider drastic moves to stop smokers congregating in front of CBD buildings as it comes under pressure to adopt effective smoke-free policies.

George Wood, chairman of the council's community safety forum, said the city had to "stop this practice of people going outside to smoke in the CBD streets because they are not allowed to in their building".

He said the council did not have smoking-ban bylaws, but rather had unenforceable smoke-free policies inherited from former councils.

"The council has to put a flag in the ground ... Walk around the front of CBD buildings or side streets and people are blowing smoke over the footpath.

"A lot of young people are hanging round there and being engulfed in smoke by quite a few people coming outside for a quick fix in their break."

Smoking is already forbidden in enclosed bus stops, but Mr Wood said the ban should be extended to all stops as it was unfair people were exposed to the danger of passive smoking.

The forum was looking at whether education or bylaws were the answer and how they could be enforced. The community's views would be sought.

"But the smoke-free movement is gaining momentum with the forum and if we take it to the council I'm sure it will get support."

The Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) lobby group has already called at a forum meeting for penalty-backed bylaws to regulate smoking in public places and a tougher commitment to a city-wide smoke-free goal.

ASH director Ben Youdan said he asked the forum to cater for the majority of citizens who did not smoke, or who did not want to smoke.

Auckland Transport said it could definitely consider a ban on smoking at bus stops.

Meanwhile, the district health board's proposal to refuse to hire smokers would broaden its policy of not allowing patients, visitors and staff to smoke at any of its sites. The DHB went smoke-free five years ago, but the rule is frequently flouted.

Nurses Organisation spokeswoman Kerri Nuku said the union would oppose the plan, which "goes against everything we stand for in terms of equal opportunity".

She said nurses had an elevated rate of smoking, one New Zealand survey finding a rate of 35 per cent. Around 20 per cent of the general adult population smoke.

ADHB executive director of nursing Taima Campbell put new ideas to the board after the frustrated father of a sick child objected to her having to inhale secondhand smoke outside the Starship children's hospital.

The man threatened legal action, but is now satisfied with the stationing of a security guard at the hospital's entrance to send smokers off-site.

Ms Campbell's proposals include a policy of hiring only non-smokers as health workers, because of their "responsibilities to be positive role models in dealing with patients and the public".

The DHB said last night that the policy was "still in development".

The Smoke-free Environments Act bans smoking indoors at workplaces as well as outdoors at schools and early childhood centres.

However, DHBs, prisons, some universities and some sports stadiums have voluntarily banned smoking anywhere on their sites.

Patients and staff of Auckland City Hospital can often be seen smoking on the cold, windy footpath of Grafton Rd.

The Human Rights Commission said the DHB would be within its rights not to hire smokers.

"Although this may not be considered fair or reasonable, it is not unlawful," a spokesman said.

This is because smoking is not specified in legislation as a banned reason for discrimination. Banned reasons include gender and disability.

Employment law specialist Andrea Twaddle said employers with a policy of not hiring smokers would find it difficult, legally, to sack a subsequently hired health worker found smoking off-site even if the person was identifiable as an employee of the organisation.

Auckland District Health Board proposals:
* Refusing to hire smokers - policy being developed.
* Permitting security guards to take photos of DHB staff who smoke in the grounds and refuse to identify themselves - policy being considered.
* Building a wall with sharp stones on top to discourage people from smoking near the entrance to Auckland City Hospital - idea likely to be dropped. Ordinary metal fencing instead.