Although he is the chief executive of the nation and is ultimately responsible for the collection of taxes from every individual and corporation in the country, the Palm Beach County tax collector's office has decided that President Obama is not qualified to serve as a tax collector in Palm Beach.
Why? Because President Obama has used tobacco products on a regular basis during the past 12 months, and according to a new Palm Beach County policy, he is not eligible to even apply for a job in the County's tax collection office.
Even an individual who had smoked cigarettes for 30 years and was using snus only as a means of trying to quit smoking would not be eligible for a job in the Palm Beach County tax collector's office. Moreover, it wouldn't matter if someone smoked 2 packs a day or just a couple of cigarettes a month -- neither could be hired under the policy, regardless of how well-qualified they might be for the position.
According to the Palm Beach County tax collector's web site, the purpose of the policy is as follows: "to create a positive healthy environment in the workplace for all employees while decreasing the costs which result from tobacco use."
The Rest of the Story
One troubling aspect of this story is that it represents blatant workplace discrimination. But another troubling aspect in my mind is the justification being given for the policy: it is not just about saving health care costs, but about creating a "positive healthy environment" in the workplace. But if you are going to say that the presence of a smoker makes it a negative unhealthy environment, then it would be equally the case that the presence of an obese person makes it a negative unhealthy environment. Or that the presence of someone who rarely exercises makes it an unhealthy environment. Or the presence of someone who uses tanning salons.
In other words, the justification for this policy is based on two things:
1. Lifestyle control; and
This is lifestyle control because it fails to differentiate between smokING in the workplace and the presence of a smokER in the workplace. It would certainly be reasonable to have a voluntary weight loss program in the workplace. Doing so would be public health promotion. But requiring employees to enter the program or refusing to hire people who are overweight would be lifestyle control.
This is bigotry because it represents intolerant treatment of the members of a group (smokers) that appears to be based on animosity and irrationality. It is irrational not to hire smokers because smoking has nothing to do with workplace qualifications and because if one were to use health care costs as a criterion for employment, one would also be justified in denying employment to people who are overweight, obese, not physically active, or who have poor diets. You don't see employment discrimination against these latter groups of people because there does not exist a systematic, obstinate, hate-filled, and irrational intolerance of these groups.
That the mere presence of a smoker in the workplace would be deemed as translating into an "unhealthy, less productive working environment" is disturbing. By the same reasoning, one could argue that the presence of an overweight person in the workplace results in an unhealthy, less productive workplace.
By this token, I guess the Boston University School of Public Health is an unhealthy and unproductive work environment because I know at least one guy who works there who indulges in excessive quantities of Vienna Fingers.