Saturday, December 10, 2005

Scotts Miracle-Gro to Begin Firing Smokers

Scotts Miracle-Gro, based in Marysville, Ohio, has announced plans to begin firing smokers in an effort to reduce health care costs for the company. Smokers have been given one year to quit smoking or else lose their jobs. Employees of the company who smoke will be fired, even if they smoke only in their own home.

According to the article: "Scotts took dramatic action because it wants to hold down health-insurance costs by 'helping people live healthy lifestyles,' said James Hagedorn, chairman and chief executive. The Marysville company pays for medical claims using its own funds, 'so why would we admit someone into this environment when they'’re passing risk along to everyone else?' he asked. 'Our view is we shouldn'’t and we won'’t.'"

The Rest of the Story

If Scotts Miracle-Gro is serious about keeping its health insurance costs down by helping people live healthy lifestyles and not passing along any risk by admitting someone who has increased health risks, then it would certainly follow up this announcement with its decision to fire any employees who have a body mass index greater than 30, a level that puts them at significantly increased risk of chronic disease.

Obesity is clearly a problem that results in greatly increased medical costs for employers and admitting obese workers into the Scotts Miracle-Gro environment certainly passes along risk of increased health costs to other employees of the company. Since the company's view is that it shouldn't and it won't pass along this risk, there is no reason why it should not begin firing obese people next year as well as smokers.

The company will also want to give out dietary questionnaires and fire anyone who consumes excessive fat and not enough fiber and anti-oxidants, since poor nutrition is, next to smoking, probably the greatest risk factor for cancer, heart disease, and other chronic diseases.

And the company will also be remiss if it doesn't start firing employees who do not report engaging in sufficient physical activity.

One reason I am highlighting this story is because it demonstrates that workplace discrimination against smokers is not just an isolated (that is, Weyco) incident, but that it is now a bona fide trend and I think it truly threatens to make it difficult for smokers to seek and obtain meaningful employment.

Scotts is apparently one of the major employers in Marysville, and with a town population of only 15,942, eliminating Scotts as a potential job site for smokers severely limits their ability to seek gainful employment. If Honda, which has a large plant near Marysville, also decides to implement such a policy, then there is almost no question that smokers in Marysville will have an extremely difficult time finding employment in the area.

Although tobacco control groups are not necessarily promoting these policies, I think it is encumbent upon us, as tobacco control professionals, to speak out unequivocally against these policies. It is, I think, the social climate of stigmatization of smokers that anti-smoking groups have helped to create that is contributing, at least in part, to the enactment of these policies, and therefore I think we have an obligation to condemn them in no uncertain terms.

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