Tuesday, March 03, 2009

North Star Writers Group Column Highlights Employment Discrimination Against Smokers

A column by Candace Talmadge of the North Star Writers Group, published last Friday, highlights the increasing trend towards employment discrimination against smokers.

Talmadge writes: "Anti-tobacco zealots have smoke pouring from their ears over an editorial published recently in Tobacco Control. The piece, co-authored by public health physician Michael Siegel and University of Washington sociology graduate student Brian Houle, questions the ethics and the effectiveness of the rush to ban smokers from the workplace instead of just their habit of lighting up. Surprise, surprise. The war on smoking is, in reality, a war on smokers." ...

"Siegel, a long-time smoking-ban advocate and tobacco company nemesis, is a professor and associate chair of academics in the social and behavioral sciences department of the Boston University School of Public Health. He is so concerned about the trend toward parting smokers from their jobs that, in addition to the article, he established a web site to discuss this issue. This site, the Center for Public Accountability in Tobacco Control, lists the growing numbers of employers going beyond just bans on workplace smoking. ... Siegel and Houle argue that this trend is discriminatory and possibly counterproductive. Smokers who lose their jobs in the United States often lose access to health insurance and thus medical care, putting their health in jeopardy and making it that much harder for them to quit smoking." ...

"Siegel seems genuinely puzzled by the venomous reaction to his editorial. He has been accused of taking tobacco company money, which he says is simply not the case. “I have been more vigorously attacked by my own colleagues than I was ever attacked by the tobacco industry.” He maintains that the science is simply not there to support those who want to ban smokers from employment, but it does not seem to matter. 'Tobacco control is turning into an ideology,' he says. 'Even if you use science to argue against the ideology, you are viewed as a traitor or a denier.'"

The Rest of the Story

Talmadge concludes: "How thin the line between health hazard and moral blight." What a fitting conclusion to this piece. For what the issue ultimately comes down to is that anti-smoking groups are promoting the treatment of smoking as a moral issue, rather than merely a health-related one.

If it were just an issue of health promotion, then anti-smoking groups would encourage employers to adopt wellness programs to help their employees, such as smoking cessation, fitness, nutrition, and weight loss programs. But by encouraging employers not to hire smokers in the first place, or to fire existing employees who smoke, it has now become a war against a lifestyle. Apparently, smoking is a moral affront and not merely a health concern. Thus, the mere presence of a smoker cannot be tolerated in the workplace.

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