Tuesday, May 08, 2012

IN MY VIEW: Smoker-Free Workplace Policies are Moral Crusades, Not Public Health Measures

The Fort Worth City Council is considering a proposal that would preclude smokers from employment with the city.

According to an article from McClatchy newspapers: "While such a move would be rare for a city, employers everywhere are getting more involved in their employees' lifestyle decisions that affect health, experts say. Companies and some government agencies have crafted policies that range from banning smoking to charging penalties on the health care benefits of overweight workers. "Their ultimate goal is to make their employees healthier, and there is a direct correlation between that and reducing health care costs," said Danny Cooner, president of Safety First, a division of Behavioral Health Systems, a company that helps employers enact wellness and smoke-free campaigns."

The Rest of the Story

If the goal of these policies is to make employees healthier and to save money, then why is every employer who implements these policies restricting them to current smokers? Ex-smokers are at a significantly increased risk of disease. The risks of heart disease do not return to baseline levels for at least two years after smoking cessation and cancer risk remains elevated for as long as two decades after smoking cessation. Thus, ex-smokers are not as healthy as nonsmokers and employing them results in increased health care costs for the employer. Why, then, is every employer which is discriminating against smokers in hiring perfectly OK with hiring ex-smokers, despite their increased disease risk and their increased health care costs?

Furthermore, if these policies are all about creating a healthy workforce, then why is it that only one of the many companies which refuse to hire smokers has also applied the policy to current employees? Especially for a large company, refusing to hire smokers is not going to make much of a dent in the health of the workforce, since many current employees already smoke? Why not do what Weyco did and apply the policy to current workers, giving them a certain amount of time to quit smoking or else firing them? 

The answer to these questions, I believe, is that these policies are not actually about improving the public's health, but instead, are part of a moral crusade against smoking. The policies are about punishing smokers in order to show moral disapproval of one particular unhealthy behavior choice. They are not about creating a healthier workforce. They are about expressing moral disapproval of smoking and tobacco use.

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