Friday, February 10, 2006

First Calabasas and Melbourne, Next the World: ASH Calls on International Bans on Smokers in the Workplace and Outdoors Smoking

If Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) has its way, smokers will not be able to obtain jobs not only anywhere in Melbourne, but anywhere in the world. And they won't only be unable to smoke on streets, sidewalks, and parking lots in Calabasas, but anywhere on earth.

In a press release issued today, ASH announced that it was providing delegates from countries all over the globe with literature it prepared which apparently is designed to try to convince them to enact widespread smoking bans that include all outdoors places and to encourage them to adopt policies by which smokers are fired from their jobs and precluded from obtaining employment at any workplace.

The material provided to delegates at the initial Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) conference in Geneva asks: "How far can we go in cracking down on smoking without some kind of backlash? The U.S. provides one example. One city has voted to ban smoking outdoors in virtually all areas -- including public sidewalks and streets, and on restaurants' outdoor smoking patios. At open public hearings, no company and no smoker testified against the bill, not a single editorial opposed it, and many antismoking groups have praised it.

More than 700 other jurisdictions -- including the entire State of Washington -- have already banned smoking in some outdoor areas: e.g., beaches, parks, waiting lines, near building entrances, etc. In at least eighteen states, courts have issued orders prohibiting smoking in the homes and cars of children involved in custody disputes, and/or limited custody of parents smoking around children. Four states have already banned smoking in homes and cars when foster children are present, and many are preparing to do so. At hearings there is no opposition, and foster care associations support such measures.

A Florida city -- like many private companies -- is proposing to hire only nonsmokers in order to save almost $10,000 [US] annually per employee. Scotts Miracle Gro says it will fire employees who smoke on or off the job, a move a major TV network [CBS] said may be a "national model" and a "new reality."” While these measures may not yet be appropriate in all countries, tobacco control advocates should not worry needlessly about a backlash.

There was no backlash when smoking was banned on most airline flights, when entire countries banned smoking in virtually all public places including bars/pubs, etc.

Since the U.S. experience shows that aggressive antismoking measures are increasingly gaining public support, advocates should not be timid in proposing them."

The Rest of the Story

I've been observing (from the inside) the tobacco control movement for 21 years, and in my opinion, I do think there is going to be a backlash if we move in the direction ASH would have us go, and it's going to be a huge one.

ASH may not realize it, but an anti-smoking organization of the same name in the UK has already come out and condemned the policy of not hiring smokers. Good luck getting the public in Great Britain to support discriminatory hiring policies against smokers when the major anti-smoking group in the country has publicly condemned the policy.

A prominent tobacco control advocate in Australia has also spoken out against these discriminatory policies.

I think ASH is going to find a huge difference in public sentiment and sentiment among the tobacco control community itself when it leaves the "friendly" confines of the U.S. and takes its crusade to the rest of the world.

Anti-smoking groups in the U.S. may be unwilling to speak out against these illegitimate public policies, but not so for at least some organizations in other countries.

But that's not what this post is about.

This post is about what the heck is motivating ASH to intervene in employment policies throughout the world? What business is it of ASH's to tell employers in other countries what to do in terms of who they hire?

If the motivation is to try to reduce health care costs and save money for employers throughout the world, then it seems quite inappropriate, since ASH's mission has nothing to do with saving money for employers.

Plus, if it was sincere about its efforts to save health care spending for employers, it would most certainly want to advocate not hiring fat people, since employer health care costs associated with obesity may well exceed costs associated with smoking and it is certainly highly "discriminatory" for thin and "normal-weight" people to have to subsidize costs for fat people who made the unwise choice to sit around and eat fatty foods, including tater tots. (I'm starting a new organization: Stop Workplace Discrimination Against Non-Tater Tot Eaters - by the way, has anyone tried the recipe yet?).

A second possible motivation might be simply the desire to reduce smoking. In other words, ASH might view firing smokers and refusing to hire them as a smoking reduction intervention. If that's the case, then I find it even more problematic, because I think it's inappropriate to use firing people as a workplace health promotion strategy.

I suppose that a third possible motivation is a desire to punish smokers for what ASH perceives is making an "unwise choice." If I had to be punished for every unwise choice I've made, I'd be grounded for life.

Unfortunately, I don't find what ASH is doing to be funny. This is really serious, and it truly threatens the credibility and legitimacy of the tobacco control movement, now not only in the United States, but throughout the world. Moreover, it threatens to turn smokers into second-class citizens who do not have the same employment opportunities as the "rest" of us.

The rest of the story suggests that a leading anti-smoking group is now taking its message of hate against smokers to the rest of the world: eventually, all countries, it is hoped, will make smokers second-class citizens who cannot obtain employment and make a living. But that's apparently OK, because it's being done for their own good. They deserve it, because they've made such an unwise choice and they need to be punished.

Good luck, ASH - U.S.! Just don't try to take me along with you, because I'm not coming along for the ride.

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