Monday, September 18, 2006

Another Anti-Smoking Group Supports Discriminatory Workplace Smoker Bans; But Rest of the Story Commenter Sets the Record Straight

According to an article appearing Friday in the Maryland Gazette, another anti-smoking group has publicly expressed its support for policies that discriminate against smokers by refusing to consider them for employment.

The article discusses the wave of employer policies that aim to save health care costs by refusing to hire smokers, such as those adopted by Scotts Miracle-Gro and Weyco. These companies actually went so far as firing existing employees who were unable or unwilling to quit smoking.

According to the article: "The wider bans are '‘the wave of the future,' said Kari Appler, executive director of the Smoke Free Maryland Coalition of Baltimore. But she had not heard about any companies in Maryland going so far as to not hire smokers. 'For many employers, this makes sense,' Appler said. '‘They are concerned about the message they send to employees, customers and the general public.'"”

Appler was countered, however, by frequent Rest of the Story commenter Michael J. McFadden, mid-Atlantic regional director of the Smoker's Club, who "pointed out that companies could conceivably save money by targeting nonsmokers who theoretically cost more in pension expenses because they tend to live longer. 'What if I'’m running a company and want to save on pension plan expenses, so I fire people who are nonsmokers? If someone tried to do that, it would create an uproar,' said McFadden. ... As for an employer'’s right to hire only nonsmokers, whether a potential employee smokes should be just one of many factors considered, he said. 'Smoking should never be used as a litmus test for something as vital to fundamental rights as being considered for a job,' McFadden said."

The Rest of the Story

I find it quite unfortunate that the Smoke Free Maryland Coalition of Baltimore has publicly supported policies that discriminate against smokers in employment. And I think it is particularly unfortunate that the Coalition has argued that not hiring smokers to save money makes sense.

But most disturbing to me is the Coalition's statement that a reason for employers not to hire smokers is because of concern over the "the message they send to employees, customers and the general public."

What kind of message does the Smoke Free Maryland Coalition of Baltimore have in mind? That smokers are second class citizens who are undeserving of employment? That children of smokers should go hungry because no one ought to hire their parents? That there is no room in society for smokers?

Frankly, the message that the Smoke Free Coalition has sent to employees, customers, and the general public is that they are full of hatred towards smokers and want to punish them by deeming them unworthy of employment and depriving them of the opportunity to make a living and support themselves and their families.

Thank goodness that long-time Rest of the Story commenter Michael McFadden came to the rescue and put the Smoke Free Coalition in its place. He insightfully pointed out that the very same reasoning being used by the Coalition to support not hiring smokers could just as easily be used to support not hiring nonsmokers. And I would add: the same reasoning could be used to support policies by which employers refuse jobs to mothers of young children, women who are likely to become mothers, fathers of young children, and fat people.

McFadden rightly suggests that smoking could be considered as a factor in hiring decisions, but only on an individual level (not as a blanket policy) and not in isolation. And he correctly points out that the right to be considered for a job should be generally considered as a fundamental right that we should strive to protect.

I am proud that a Rest of the Story discussant has added such an important and thoughtful perspective to this public discussion, which has received tremendous exposure among the tobacco control community (it was featured as a headline story on the news website).

It is high time that the anti-smoking movement -- including its organizations and advocates -- take time to seriously consider what the Smoker's Club is saying, rather than to simply dismiss this and other smokers' rights groups outright because they oppose many tobacco control policies.

I think the Smoker's Club adds an important voice to the discussion, and this is one situation in which I'm extremely glad that this voice was highlighted in the debate. On this particular issue, the Smoker's Club put the anti-smoking movement in its place.

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