According to an article on ShortNews.com, the government of North Korea has announced plans to bar students who smoke from attending college. They will be admitted only if they successfully quit smoking.
The article states: "The government in North Korea has announced that students who smoke will not be allowed entrance into higher education, unless they successfully kick the habit. North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il is a reformed smoker. He has been leading an anti-smoking campaign in the country for years. North Korean media said: 'North Korea is briskly proceeding anti-smoking activities, including a measure to strip smokers of their rights to go to university." According to local media in the country, Mr Kim's campaign has led to a 15% drop in the number of people who smoke in the country.'"
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We're not there yet, but I'm afraid that the push by some anti-smoking groups and advocates in the U.S. to ban smokers from employment is just one step removed from this inhumane policy being imposed by the dictatorship in North Korea. And the rationale that is being used to support the policy in North Korea is precisely the same as that being used by some in the tobacco control movement here in the States.
There is no question in my mind that requiring students to quit smoking if they want to attend college would be an effective anti-smoking intervention. And perhaps it could result in a 15% reduction in the number of young people who smoke. But that doesn't make it a sound policy. Obviously, it's quite an inhumane policy because it deprives people of the right to obtain an education. That's a right that should not be taken away from people simply because of a personal choice they have made to smoke (or to an addiction, whichever you like - it really doesn't matter).
But I think the same thing is true of employment. Everyone should be able to pursue employment and to make a living and support themselves and their families. No one should be deprived of the opportunity to seek employment simply because they choose to smoke. I do think that it is inhumane to deprive smokers of the opportunity to seek employment. Yet this is exactly what some anti-smoking groups are trying to do through their support of policies such as the World Health Organization's, which make not smoking a condition for employment.
I'd like to think that we are a long way from being able to be compared to a dictatorship and its oppressive policies. But thanks to the actions of groups like Action on Smoking and Health and the failure of any U.S. anti-smoking group in the U.S. to condemn policies which deprive smokers of basic rights that they should enjoy (such as the WHO's employment policy), we aren't as far away as we'd like to think.