Thursday, December 02, 2010


Yes, we've all seen them. Those curious little groups that huddle in bunches of 3-6 people with two things in common: their addiction to nicotine and their victim-hood in being forced outside to indulge in their addiction.

We don't need a refresher on how over the last 20 years or so, smokers have been pushed steadily out of the workplace. Those of you who smoke dread the oven-temps of summer and the bone-chilling winds of winter. And yet the rest of us drive by or look out the window with mixed emotions of pity that you're forced outside and a sense of justice that the rest of us aren't exposed to what you're offering.

What prompts me to write about this today is news that a small outfit, the Massachusetts Hospital Association, announced last month that it will no-longer hire people who smoke. As their workforce rotates, they wont have to deal with the higher rate of health issues and higher cost of health insurance for those employees. Not to mention all the cigarette breaks.

Before posting this, I looked for other examples of firms with similar hiring practices. The Cleveland Clinic, Alaska Airlines and Union Pacific are just three that came up immediately. None of which are small operations. What seemed natural was the policy change in health related organizations. 

Let me say that frankly, I'm puzzled by the number of doctors and nurses that accumulate outside of the Kingston & Benedictine hospitals as well as the health clinics around the county. Astonishing is the daily collective on the sidewalk outside of the Reuner Cancer Support House on Mary's Avenue. All should know better.

Supporters of the 'hire-no-smokers' policy say it will provide smoke-free work environments and help employers control their health-care costs. But critics argue it's a form of discrimination that intrudes into the private lifestyle choices of prospective employees.

There is a group that keeps track of the anti-smoking shift in the American workplace. They are called Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). Executive Director of ASH, John Banzhaf was quoted in the Medical Journal at Wash University: "Smoking is the biggest factor in controllable health-care costs.
Banning the hiring of smokers appears to be spreading rapidly through the entire private sector especially as health-care costs continue to soar." 

That source points out that the average smoker costs companies more than $12,000 a year in health and disability related costs on top of the four 15-minute breaks a day which also affects productivity.

When I mentioned this policy shift to a nurse friend of mine, she said, who's next? Overweight people? She was referring to the "Slippery Slope" concept. For the record, there is an awareness campaign going on right now focused on nutrition and exercise, but I don't see that influencing hiring practices anymore than it already does. Don't kid yourself, employers are already factoring your appearance into the equation at the interview.

No surprize: The American Civil Liberties Union characterizes a refusal to hire smokers as "lifestyle discrimination." There are issues that can and cant be changed that make up who we are. Smoking, like bathing, swearing and beating your kids, can be altered. Besides, this wouldn't be the first time I disagreed with the ACLU.

There are a number of smoker's rights websources out there to argue the opposite point. Some even tout the findings of the US Chamber of Commerce that says there is no connection between smoking and absenteeism. Of course we have recent evidence that tons of money comes to the Chamber from big business. Business like R.J.Reynolds and Phillip Morris. So I'm supposed to trust their findings?

If you think it's just allot of threatening chatter, I pulled this paragraph from the ABC Report that came out last month: The Cleveland Clinic, which has some 40,000 employees, stopped hiring smokers in 2007. Since then, it has turned over 30 percent of its workforce, and none of those new workers are believed to be smokers.
All new hires are tested for tobacco use, and if they test positive the job offer is rescinded. So far, 250 people have lost out on jobs there because of tobacco use.

 With such a trend, you could actually accelerate the drop in smoking starts by exposing fewer youth to the addiction. If you need more incentive to quit, let me remind you my friend Mary just died of Lung Cancer and my buddy Tom Hoffay is in an Albany Hospital right now because of a heart valve problem complicated by his decades of smoking. 
Now, I'm not saying we should ban the sale of tobacco, matter-of-fact, I advocate the legalization and taxation of Marijuana, but employers should have the right to weed out their smoking workforce if they want to.


Anonymous said...

Wonder if you'd be singing the same song if it were about businesses not hiring gay people. HIV and Aids costs a few dollars to treat too, ya know. They'd have the same, lame excuse you site above.

Anonymous said...

All of us smokers should just quit so that all non-smokers taxes go up!

Anonymous said...
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Mike Madsen said...
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Mike Madsen said...

1:04 Your comment was expected. Smoking is a choice, sexual orientation is not. Smoking is the equivalent of having unsafe sex with anyone and/or sharing needles with anyone. THAT would be something someone could change.

1:28 The taxes you pay on cigarettes serve two functions, to offset the healthcare costs levied against the state for uninsured victims who use the emergency room as a result of smoking while acting as a fiscal deterrent to starting the addiction in the first place in hopes of lowering the number of victims.

and finally 2:09: I totally agree your point regarding Pharma ads. However, municipalities like Kingston and Ulster County have drug screenings in the workplace today which could determine abuse of the recreational prescription drugs we see traded on the street. Alcohol, the worst of them, is continually discouraged in the workplace and has seen the same actions against it.

To all: what I am pointing out is that the push to diminish the use of tobacco has been the successful job of our government. What we are seeing is the government releasing it's control over the private sector in NOT forcing them to hire smokers.

My hatred of tobacco comes from watching my mother struggle with 1/8 lung capacity at 62 and no agency willing to intercede for the decades she was pumping her lungs with smoke. Like the ad at the top, Smoking was good for you back then. In reality, it was only good for the tobacco companies.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry about your mom. I sincerely am. But making an example of one person doesn't cut it. It is like when the Bush Jr. Administration made such an issue about the one woman that was on life support. It is interference into the private lives and choices of the American citizens. Yes, many companies screen for drugs and alcohol; but they do not refuse to hire people that drink - you and I both know that! In fact, it wasn't all that long ago that I saw one of our Assembymen drunk off his butt (pun intended) in a local bar - hanging all over some rather young looking young ladies. Should he lose his job because he chose to go get drunk and look like an A on a weeknight?

You want to punish the folks that sold us these addictive substances to begin with... Have at it. But please piture your mother - alive - standing out in 0 degree weather to have a smoke.

Add pnemonia to her list? Kill her quicker because you disapprove of her "habit"?

I'm not involved in the gay debate at all. I say, "have at it!"

But I am involved, in my way, in human rights for ALL people - and what I posted before was very legitimate and pertinent to your thread.

Mike, as you have stated in the past, any one of us could die at any given time - or we could even be wiped out amass by a big mass of concete (or whatever...) from outer space....

My issue is that victims are being punished for being the victims of mass media advertizing, whether it be cigs and booze in the past, or a pharmaceutical deluge...

There are people that quit smoking and gained 100 lbs - now living with high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and/or other complications that come from weight gain...

There are people that are popping 5 - 10 - 15 different types of meds that simply used to smoke - got depressed when they quit - and tried all the new wave solutions out there...

My grandfather died of COPD related issues. My mom has COPD. Both my brothers had/have COPD. I have COPD. My daughter has the beginnings of COPD. All of them smoked - just like I do. And every single one of them contributed to / served this country in some way, shape or form - and/or continue to.

Just like you stand up on behalf of your mother (honorable). I am standing up on behalf of the rights of the people I love.

Smokers are being treated like criminals already... and it is not right! Would you also deny smokers the right to serve in the Military (one of my brothers served in Germany and one in Korea)?


Anonymous said...

Addendum: U.S. Presidents that smoked:

"Dubya: Ex-cigarette smoker
Clinton: Smoked cigars occasionally
Reagan: Ex-cigarette smoker
Ford: Smoked a pipe
Johnson: Ex-cigarette smoker
Kennedy: Smoked cigarettes and cigars
Eisenhower: Ex-cigarette smoker
FDR: Smoked cigarettes
Obama: Ex-cigarette smoker"

Copied and Pasted from:

Theoretical question:
Say you "were" a smoker, Mike...

You are highly intelligent. You are a terrific asset to the community. You are a terrific blogger. You are a respectible UC Legislature. You are multifaceted and extremely valuable as a human being and as a United States citizen.

Say you "were" a smoker, Mike...
Should you be fired and denied other jobs / positions? Would that serve the "common good"?

I think not.

Anonymous said...

I fully understand where Mike is coming from. People who succumb to the propaganda of "smoking makes you cool" as youth, insist on having the right to smoke around others when they become adults.
Anyone who decides to light up, become addicted to nicotine, suddenly decides they need to share their joy of smoking with those who don't. For those who step outside to do so, don't think you don't smell like an ash tray when you come back inside...

Anonymous said...

Didn't see a photo of the county violators at numerous sites who are in violation of the local law adopted in 2008 which prohibits smoking on county property. Fines up to $500 will be imposed. Now that is a novel idea to pump money into the general fund. Check out Golden Hill near UCAT and GHHCC. Another useless local law which is not enforced.

Anonymous said...

Well Michael, It seems this topic has struck a nerve. Well done.

Anonymous said...

Excuse me Mike and company... but I have some serious questions...

I didn't become too involved in research in this area - but now I've done a little - and it certainly appears (?????) to me that smokers have gotten screwed over by everyone - including the cigarette companies, the ACLU and the Attorney Generals of 48 states (?????)

Tell me (I have a lot more to read on the topic) - do you think I have some basis for feeling this way?

Would you admit it if I did?


And apparently the self-righteous anti-smoking groupies are getting screwed over too... (?????)

How does it feel?

This is law and order and justice at work?

Guess what? So far the whole thing smells worse than an asstray full of cigarettes in an overutilized outhouse that hasn't been cleaned in 9 months...!

Guess I'll just have to say - tongue in cheek - "Hallelujah, I've been saved!"


"Touched a nerve"?

With what I just read, I have to say: What F-ing Nerve!

Jury is out though - I've just skimmed things, this far - and maybe I'll find a gold nugget in the BS.

You think?