Cost of smoking: You’re fired

As the Monty Python proverb goes, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

Except maybe smokers.

Since Reader’s Digest published “Cancer by the Carton” in 1952, the Spanish Inquisition is exactly what the tobacco world has grown to expect.

Smokers at ASU are all too familiar with this idea. Last spring, Tempe’s Undergraduate Student Government attempted to make the University a smoke-free campus.

Smokers are demonized so frequently in the media that it’s almost politically incorrect not to harass them on the street.

First it was smoking at work. Then it was restaurants and bars. Then it was all public places. Now it seems that their bad habit might cost smokers a job opportunity, too.

According to a recent New York Times article, an increasing number of medical businesses, like hospitals, are adopting “tobacco-free hiring” policies.

Under these new regulations, the businesses would turn away job applicants who smoke or test positive for nicotine in a urine test. A few of the companies even included existing employees in the policy –– quit, or you’re fired.

The Times article stated reasons for such a policy include: “to increase worker productivity, reduce health care costs and encourage healthier living.”

Understandable, but this is too much. After all, smokers are risking enough — their lives.

According to a 2010 tobacco-trend report by the American Lung Association, “Cigarette smoking has been identified as the leading cause of preventable morbidity (disease and illness) and premature mortality (death) in the United States” and is the cause of one in five American deaths.

So why penalize employees at work for engaging in a private activity outside of work? When did it become OK to treat tobacco as if it were an illegal substance and its users were abusers?

No question: Smoking is a terrible habit. But smokers are not bad people, despite how much we would like our youth to believe it.

Health and productivity are two different subjects. So, if you want to talk about job efficiency, a recent article in Newsweek suggested that smoking actually increases cognitive functioning.

The article, citing the results of a 2010 National Institute on Drug Abuse report, said, “Nicotine, they found, has ‘significant positive effects’ on fine motor skills, the accuracy of short-term memory, some forms of attention and working memory, among other basic cognitive skills.”

The American Heart Association reported that approximately 24.8 million men and 21.1 million women are smokers, according to a 2008 survey by the National Center for Health Statistics.

Sorry, hospitals, but you need a more convincing argument.

And what about other bad habits, like alcohol or fast food?

The American Heart Association also reported that many children are obese. Based on the 2009 update of their overweight and obesity statistics, “Among children ages 2–19, 23.4 million are overweight and obese.”

And once you get to American adults ages twenty or more the number of overweight and obese becomes staggering — 145 million.

That’s nearly half of the U.S. population.

Smokers have suffered enough for their cigarettes. At this point, if they continue, society and employers should respect their right to do it.

These new hospital policies are a Supreme Court case just waiting to happen.

Contact Danny at djoconn1@asu.edu