Monday, December 17, 2007

New Poll Shows Waning Support for Anti-Smoking Groups' Agenda of Employer Discrimination Against Smokers

A Wall Street Journal Online/Harris Interactive poll conducted earlier this year revealed waning public support for policies - favored by many anti-smoking groups - by which employers fire or otherwise discriminate against workers, including smokers, who have unhealthy lifestyles.

While 53% of respondents in 2006 supported higher insurance premiums for those with unhealthy lifestyles, only 37% of respondents expressed such support in 2007. Similarly, the proportion of respondents supporting higher deductibles or co-payments for people with unhealthy lifestyles fell from 53% in 2006 to 35% in 2007.

In the 2007 poll, only 7% of respondents agreed that "employers should be able to fire an employee who is unwilling to quit smoking." Only 29% agreed that employers should be able to force a worker who smokes to take part in smoking cessation programs. The majority of respondents - 65% - believe that employers should neither be able to fire smokers nor require them to take part in smoking cessation programs.

The Rest of the Story

This poll reveals that the agenda of many anti-smoking groups, which includes discriminating against smokers in employment decisions, is not in line with public opinion. A measly 7% of the public expressed support for employers being able to fire employees because they smoke. Only a little over one-third of the public supports the idea of charging higher health insurance premiums for people with unhealthy lifestyles, such as smokers.

While public opinion is not necessarily a measure of the validity or appropriateness of a public policy, I am presenting these data in order to show that the extremist faction of the tobacco control movement - which is supporting employment discrimination against smokers - is so far out of touch with public opinion that it risks alienating the public if it continues to pursue this agenda.

My fear is when that alienation occurs, it will not be specific to the smoker discrimination movement. I'm afraid it will carry over to the entire anti-smoking agenda, including the movement to provide smoke-free environments for workers and the public.

Once the anti-smoking movement is associated with fanaticism, all aspects of the movement will be viewed in that way. The public will not, I believe, discriminate between the various parts of the tobacco control agenda.

In fact, I wonder whether the extreme actions of companies like Weyco, which have fired smokers who refused or failed to quit smoking, are behind the waning of public support for far less intrusive policies such as requiring higher health insurance premiums for smokers.

The animal rights movement went by the wayside largely because it came to be viewed by the public as a fanatical movement. It completely lost touch with public opinion. This is the exact path that I see the anti-smoking movement taking right now. I am speaking out because I want to prevent the movement from going down that road. Unfortunately, my words are largely falling upon deaf ears, or at least ears that don't want to listen, and therefore, I don't see my actions having any effect. I think it is too late for the extremist element within tobacco control to be restrained. And it is not going to happen with the current groupthink mentality in the movement. It is not going to happen when those who dissent are attacked and ostracized. This is precisely why dissent is important in a social movement. Without it, the tobacco control movement is going to eventually become what the animal rights movement is today.

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