Monday, January 23, 2006

Action on Smoking and Health Encourages Firing of All Smokers

According to a press release issued by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), a Washington, D.C.-based anti-smoking organization: "firing smokers is an appropriate and very effective way to stop burdening the great majority of employees who wisely chose not to smoke with the enormous unnecessary costs of smoking by their fellow employees."

The press release followed the airing of a CBS story about the growing trend of employers who fire smokers or refuse to employ them in the first place.

The Rest of the Story

As far as I'm concerned, this is about as low as the anti-smoking movement has ever gotten.

Just when I thought that we had bottomed out (with the combination of the Helena/Pueblo nonsensical claims, the massive deception of the public about the New Jersey smoking law, and the refusal of U.S. anti-smoking groups to speak out against the World Health Organization's intrusive and discriminatory policy of refusing to hire smokers), we have gone lower than I've ever observed before.

Now, a prominent anti-smoking group has actually called for employers to fire all their smokers, calling it an appropriate and effective action to save money.

Now it's official. The anti-smoking movement is, indeed, trying to make smokers second-class citizens by depriving them of the right to seek and maintain gainful employment in order to make a living and support themselves and their families.

I hasten to add that in general, smokers are already less financially well-off, and that by sentencing them to unemployment, we would only be furthering their disadvantage, creating a huge class divide between smokers and nonsmokers, and causing a huge amount of suffering for smokers and their families, including their children I would add.

Is ASH serious? Should smokers in the United States of America in 2006 not be allowed to hold jobs? Should children of smokers go hungry because their parents are fired from their jobs and unable to find new ones because no employer will hire them? Should our society have two distinct classes, one of which can work and the other of which cannot work, simply because of the addictive power of a product which most people who use it start using it as kids?

It's quite clear that ASH is serious, and I think that represents an extremely sad state of affairs for the tobacco control movement in this country. And again, it represents quite a contrast from our counterparts elsewhere, such as the organization of the same name (ASH) in Great Britain, which has condemned these types of employment policies.

While I am a strong supporter of tobacco control policies and have dedicated my career to promoting them, I don't think class warfare should be one of them. And frankly, that's exactly what this is. By promoting these policies on a national basis, ASH is promoting the creation of two separate classes of U.S. citizens. And if you're unfortunate enough to have made the decision to smoke, then you no longer have the opportunity to be employed and to generate an income to support yourself and your family.

While ASH argues that the reason behind its support of these policies is an economic one, I highly doubt that's the true reason. The inconsistencies in ASH's position are simply too great. For example, the ASH press release argues "that Scotts is taking other steps to try to reduce its employees' enormous health care costs. These include an on-site clinic with a doctor for the workers, a drive-through pharmacy, a new gym etc. -- all of which cost millions of dollars a year. Interestingly, the only health-promoting and cost-saving program which does not cost the company any money is firing smokers."

ASH is apparently trying to make the point that Scotts is not simply picking on smokers, but is implementing a broad range of policies that regulate off-the-job behavior that affects health, such as physical activity.

But ASH is completely missing the point, which is that if you are a couch potato and you do nothing more at home than sit at your computer and read self-congratulatory press releases issued by ASH (which this week could have occupied most of your free time), you are not fired.

Appropriately, what Scotts is doing about the problem of obesity and lack of physical activity, which costs millions of dollars due to increased health care costs, is to encourage employees to become more physically active and to lose weight, and Scotts is making it easier for their employees to do this by providing them with facilities on site.

An appropriate public health policy for worksite health promotion regarding smoking would provide smoking employees with smoking cessation programs, not fire them.

And of course, the worst inconsistency of the crusade against smokers that ASH is promoting is the failure of this crusade to also recommend firing employees based on other off-the-job lawful activities that greatly increase health care spending for companies.

If ASH were sincere in its efforts to reduce health care costs, it would certainly want to also crusade against fat people. There is no question that obesity causes enormous health care costs that are largely borne by thin people. Why should I, as a relatively thin person, be subsidizing the health care costs of obese people? We could save enormous money by simply firing them all.

And the same goes for people who do not get enough exercise, people who eat a high-fat diet, people who use tanning salons, and diabetics who do not properly control their blood sugars. Shouldn't all these people be joining the smokers on the unemployment line?

I honestly think something else is motivating this crusade against smokers, and because of it, I propose a name change for Action on Smoking and Health.

A more accurate name would, I think, be Action against Smokers based on Hate.

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