Taking smoker discrimination too far

I started smoking when I was 14 years old. I didn’t realize years later that it was a stupid decision. I knew when I lit my first cigarette. I’ve lost count of how many times I quit in the last 17 years. My longest success was from the day I found out I was pregnant until right after my daughter weaned. 21 months. I am now working on my 4th week without a cigarette and I am quite determined to make it stick this time. But that is MY choice and not one that anyone could force on me.

Years ago I had a discussion with someone about employers not hiring smokers, so when I read this article on the New York Times website it wasn’t my first exposure to a smoker ban. It angered me just as much today, as a non-smoker, as it did 7-8 years ago as a smoker. What right does anyone have to regulate a person’s legal activities outside of work?

The first concern is over health care costs. When I was half way through reading, a laundry list of other health concerns jumped to mind. What’s next? If you’re caught eating too much fat or cholesterol, you could lose your job? What about getting caught riding in a car without a seatbelt? Or how about if you enjoy risk taking activities on your off-time such as bungee jumping or sky diving? Will this all be grounds for not hiring a new employee or firing an old one? At what point does it end?

My health insurance company from the last business that I worked for instituted a higher premium cost for smokers. It was $20 a month. If you were caught lying about being a smoker, you risked losing your health coverage. I honestly had no problem with that. If the health insurance company wants to charge me more because statistically I cost them more money, that’s within their rights. But any employer discriminating against current or potential employees because they smoke is completely unacceptable.

The next issue they bring up is that they want to increase worker productivity. However, they never explain exactly how that will happen with a smoker ban. I assume that they’re referring to fewer breaks. I can only speak from personal experience on this one, but I’ve never seen a difference in productivity between smokers and non-smokers. There are lazy people in both groups and a lazy person will find a way to get out of work, whether that’s frequent cigarette breaks, frequent bathroom breaks, or playing computer solitaire. I used to work with almost all smokers and often worked 12 to 13 hour shifts. None of us took any actual breaks in that time, even though we were all entitled to them. We did, however, step out every couple of hours for a cigarette. We also managed to get everything we needed to get done finished and more often than not, several other tasks as well.

If a company wants to end all “smoker breaks”, fine. I see no problem with restricting smokers to before and after work or during lunch breaks. I’ve worked for several people who wouldn’t allow me to smoke while I was working. I completely obliged. But it was none of their business if I went home afterwards and smoked an entire pack.

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