Something to Think About

"I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love."
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Friday, February 22, 2013

What Rights Do Smokers Have?

I've seen a lot of changes to laws concerning smoking over the years.

I still remember going over to visit friends when I was growing up who had parents who smoked.  I hadn't met anyone who smoked before.  My parents didn't nor did any other family members I was familiar with.  I had seen smokers on television and in the movies, however, and they still had cigarette ads in magazines back then. No one went outside away from the children to indulge in their habit back then.  No one thought that there was any harm caused to anyone by being in a room with a smoker.

 It took quite a few scientific studies but once it because obvious that secondhand smoke was a problem for the non-smoking public, laws and our mindset started changing.

It started with separate smoking areas of restaurants but that didn't help the employees who had to work in the smoking areas and were exposed to the smoke even if they didn't smoke themselves and frankly, the smoke didn't stay in the smoking area anyway.  Over time, restaurants became smoke-free - at least here in Pennsylvania where it is now the law.

A lot of workplaces have banned smoking indoors.  The company I work for has done so.  They supply outdoor smoking areas with roofs to protect the employees from the elements.

Some companies have taken this farther and banned smoking on their property entirely!  This causes a problem as it doesn't stop smokers from smoking.  They simply walk across the street or down the block to smoke - oftentimes leaving their cigarette butts behind.

I think, perhaps, the people who run these companies think that if they make it more difficult for people to smoke, they will just quit.  This ignores the problem of addiction - and yes, many smokers I know would love to quit and have tried several times and have not been able to quit.  It is not easy.

Now we are seeing companies where they have decided to stop hiring people who smoke.  Yes. You read that right.  Even if they only smoke at home, these companies won't hire them.

I understand the concept.  Companies are concerned with ever-increasing health insurance costs and see this as a way to save money.  This raises a number of issues, however.

1 in 5 Americans smoke and smoking is not illegal.  Policies such as refusing to hire them are obviously discriminatory.  There are even states that have laws that prevent companies from enacting these policies because they believe it is discrimination.  Do we really want to treat that many people as if they are lower class individuals simply because they are addicted to nicotine?  What does that say about us?

If we are going to allow this sort of policy, then why stop at smokers?  What about people who are obese or those who eat red meat? What about people who ride motorcycles without a helmet?  What about people with dangerous hobbies - mountain climbing or sky diving?  Should we ban them from being hired next?  

Wouldn't a better solution be to allow the smoking employees to pay some of the extra cost for their higher insurance coverage?  We do this with smokers and life insurance - why not health insurance as well?

As a former smoker I know it took me years to quit smoking for good and it isn't easy.  Expecting people to quit so that they can get a job is unrealistic.  Many can't quit for the sake of their own health. If it were easy to quit then most people wouldn't smoke! I think we have to find a way to approach the problem of higher health costs for smokers that doesn't involve refusing to hire them.

What do you think?  Is it reasonable for a company to ban the hiring of smokers?

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1 comment:

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