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Thank You For Not Smoking: In Bated Defense of Flagler County’s New Rule

| September 12, 2013

This is not CNN. 'A Smoking Club' (1793), from the New York Public Library collection.

This is not CNN. ‘A Smoking Club’ (1793), from the New York Public Library collection.

Back in the days when I worked at CNN in Atlanta, and Ted Turner was still very much in charge, he had a ready response for anyone who questioned his company’s no-smoking policy for employees: “Anyone who smokes is stupid,” he would say, “and I don’t want stupid people working for me.” That was generally enough to silence further protest. Grandfathered to indulge their filthy habit were a couple of dozen CNN “originals,” who could be seen huddled outside the doors of the CNN Center, shoulders hunched against the winter chill or a summer downpour as they puffed the loathsome weed.

Turner’s condemnation was harsh, but it made the point. Prospective employees are more than just lines on a resumé. Their choices and their habits define them. People are the sum of their deeds. If you wanted to work for Turner Broadcasting, you quit smoking if you’d already started, and of course you didn’t dare start. I’m not sure whether the ban was ever enforced—indeed, whether it was enforceable—but I suspect that the place was better for it. People didn’t reek of cigarette smoke, there weren’t a lot of smokers hacking away, spreading germs across the wide-open newsroom, and employees were more likely to enjoy better overall health, which cut down on absenteeism and medical expenses.

If you haven’t been paying attention since the Surgeon General issued his landmark report on smoking back in 1964, here’s what you’ve missed over the last half-century: If you smoke cigarettes, they will probably kill you. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States.” Some 1,200 people die from cigarette-related illnesses every single day. And lung cancer is not a pretty way to die.

The question of course is whether an employer has the right to forbid its employees from smoking on their own time, an issue close to home with Flagler County’s recently-enacted ban. Opponents of ordinances like Flagler’s—which often includes the ACLU—say that as long as smoking, like drinking, is legal, it cannot be arbitrarily singled out for opprobrium. Proponents say that a healthier workplace is in everyone’s interest, especially as the Affordable Care Act nudges us closer to a true actuarial structure, in which the healthy help to subsidize the sick. Soaring medical costs are requiring all of us to take a more proactive role in staying healthy.

As a lifelong nonsmoker, I can’t fathom why anyone of sound mind wouldn’t do everything in his or her power to stop the habit. But I know that quitting is, for most people, difficult at best, and next to impossible for some. There are all sorts of products on the market designed to break the nicotine chokehold. But the truth is that a great many people will not stop if they do not have a compelling reason to do so.

For many smokers, it takes a pregnancy to make them stop. Suddenly there is an incentive far more powerful than any study or scary TV commercials. For mothers-to-be, the toll on a developing fetus is direct and obvious. Fathers also become aware that their habits, good and bad, are likely to be copied by their young children.

If a pregnancy is not in the cards, and we all agree that smoking is bad for you, and we all bear the costs of smoking-related illnesses, maybe what is required are some incentives that really mean something. You would think that the prospect of coughing up your lungs a few decades hence would be incentive enough for most people. But folks tend to live in the here and now, and most of us have a hard time contemplating our own demise. So, losing your job because you can’t, or won’t, kick the habit? No presents under the Christmas tree because that job you had, suddenly you don’t have? Is that enough of an incentive to quit?

OK, I know this sounds heartless, as I reside smugly in my smoke-free home. But consider again Turner’s edict. No one really feared being spied through the living-room window smoking a Camel, and no one was frisked by Turner Security for hidden butts. But each and every employee had made a promise, and the guardians of that promise were … each and every employee. Atlanta remains, in some ways, a small town, and if you were lighting up in a bar it would not be unusual to be seen by a co-worker. There was no honor system—you weren’t going to get turned in—but there would be an unspoken acknowledgment that the smoker had violated a code we all labored under. Condemnation by your peers is indeed a strong incentive.

For legions of job-seekers, drug testing is an unquestioned part of the routine. Most people understand that the use of illegal drugs can have far-reaching consequences—stealing, for instance–none of which an employer can tolerate. My younger daughter is in the midst of job-hunting, and has to take a drug test for most of the positions for which she has applied, none of which involve driving or operating machinery. But when I asked her whether any of the prospective employers have rules against smoking, she looked at me as if I were nuts. Employers don’t want the drug-impaired on the payroll, but maybe they’d be doing everyone a favor if they had the same attitude toward the nicotine addicted.

Steve Robinson moved to Flagler County after a 30-year career in New York and Atlanta in print, TV and the Web. Reach him by email here.

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14 Responses for “Thank You For Not Smoking: In Bated Defense of Flagler County’s New Rule”

  1. Will says:

    Good thoughts, Steve…

    • Audrey Silk says:

      Some of the smartest people in the world — magnitudes smarter than Turner — are/were smokers. The brainwashing by the anti-smoker crusade that there can’t be any other reason to smoke other than “addiction” (if nicotine was the sole reason for smoking then nicotine patches or gums would be all that people need, no?, but which have a 94% failure rate) or some other character flaw is what drives this stupid opinion. The intolerant refuse to accept that the choice to continue smoking is no different than allowing a risky enjoyment akin to wanting to continue to be a race car driver or mountain climber or boxer (what “idiot” wants to have a career getting beaten up?). The risk doesn’t outweigh the benefit. Some people don’t simply want to exist but want to live and determine their own destiny rather than having these moral dictators make rules to force us to conform to their beliefs. What you draw is a picture of slavery by fellow men — who have self-appointed themselves as arbiter — of those they determined to be “inferior” and, although you semi-protest otherwise, to be informants on your neighbor. Yeah, that’s all much better than making an autonomous informed choice to enjoy a legal product. It’s bizarro world in the USA when tyranny is championed as the preferred choice and individual free will is condemned. You use the word “incentive” which means taking or leaving it. Since when is being held at the point of a gun called an “incentive” to give up your property? “Don’t smoke or lose your job” is no different.

      Founder, Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment (C.L.A.S.H.)

  2. Geezer says:

    Back in 1998, I was observing a cluster of smokers sneaking some puffs
    outside of Palm Coast Data. These PCD employees reminded me of heroin addicts,
    the way that they fiendishly, and almost in desperation smoked their butts.
    It’s as if their lives depended on it. One lady there, her eyes would open wide as
    she inhaled her fag. She smoked that cigarette until it burned her finger.

    At the time I was a smoker too, sucking down cowboy killers at the rate of a pack
    per day (a 20-year-smoker). I would even gladly skip a meal for a cigarette and coffee.
    My days began and ended with a cigarette. They were a priority.

    I remember telling my wife how horrified I was, watching my fellow PCD smokers.
    The next day I went “cold turkey” and I haven’t looked back. I owe the smokers that
    day a debt of gratitude. I saw myself in them and I was shocked into quitting.

    I am glad that smoking is being frowned upon societally, and appreciate the “No Smoking”
    signs and smoke-free environments. Any fiilm noir buff will tell you how cool Bogart
    looked smoking his cigarettes. Humphrey Bogart succumbed to cancer as a result
    of his prolific Lucky Strike addiction. And that was long before the tobacco companies
    were adding additional carcinogenic chemicals to further hook you.
    Smoking isn’t cool or glamorous. It’s a sickness. It’s a means to illness.

    Smoking is for dummies. Your suicidal smoking habit costs you hundreds of dollars a month.
    Why not bank that money you will save and use it towards a note for a nice new car?
    Add up the money you’re spending. (if you dare)
    Maybe new clothes, better food, brighter teeth, and better breath–those will seem free now.

    Feel free to apply for jobs that demand non-smokers, enjoy the freedom of not stressing over
    your cigarette supply. Enjoy the fact that when you speak, you’re not making the other person
    want to wretch. All smokers have ashtray breath. Enjoy blowing your nose and not seeing
    that disgusting yellowish-brown soot on your tissue. No more burned upholstery!

    Until you quit, please keep your toxic smoke and your cigarette butts away from the rest of us.


  3. Sherry Epley says:

    Sorry Steve. . . while you make a very well wriiten excellent point, where do we draw the line between privacy and personal freedoms versus the control motivated by insurance premiums?

    I am completely against smoking! My parents and grand father died prematurely of smoking related causes. I have never, and never will use tobacco products of any kind. I absolutely understand how very dangerous second hand smoke is, and do not allow anyone to smoke in my home or car. I completely support the elimination of smoking in the work place, restaurants, bars, trains, planes, and ALL public places. The smell on people’s colthing is revolting, and their cigarette butts are disgustung litter.

    Saying that, this is NOT a second hand smoke issue. This is an issue of over reach into the conduct and choices of what people do in what should be the privacy of their own homes.

    Having worked as an insurance underwriter for over 10 years, I can assure you that if our health care were not “forced by Republicans” to be controlled by “for profit” insurance companies, this would not even be an issue. Ask the people who voted for this measure. The motivation is not simply for encouraging good health practices. If they were completely honest (good luck with that), they would not even be considering such work place restrictions if the health insurance premiums for smokers were not extraordinarly higher than for non-smokers.

    In the past, insurance companies were allowed to “cherry pick” only the most healthy people for their coverage. Many companies simply would not allow smokers, those who were over weight, those with medical problems, etc. to be covered at all. That’s what my big REJECTED stamp was used for, and I used it a lot.

    Now, with the implimentation of the ACA, the insurance companies can no longer refuse to cover the less healthy. . . but they can require much higher premiums. Please, pay attention. . . look for similar discrimination against others for whom the insurance carriers will charge higher than normal premiums.

    Look for additional employment discrimination against those who are over weight, have high blood pressure, have any kind of disease or disorder, etc. I did this as an underwriter, please believe me. The medical index bureau has your medical history, and they sell it to insurance companies. In the past, it was just the insurance companies selecting against you. In the near future, it will be your potential employers. . . just to have lower insurance costs.

    The “Public Option” (similar to Medicare, and similar to the excellent coverage in many other countries) would have had a leveling effect on the costs of health care and how it is paid for, but we could not get it passed through Congress. The ACA, in it’s present form needs to be made better, and more fair. Hopefully Congress will allow the changes that need to be made, but I am not holding out much hope.

  4. Billybob says:

    I am confused about this “non-smoking drug test” I’ve been hearing about, the one that tells you whether you get fired or can’t get hired based on the detection of nicotine in your system.

    If someone had stopped smoking cigarettes, but now “smokes” an electronic cigarette (which contains nicotine but not carcinogens) then it appears this non-smoker would fail the smoking test unfairly, because really it doesn’t detect whether or not someone smokes, but rather it detects nicotine in your system, right? So really it is a “non-nicotine” test, not a “no-smoking” test.

    This doesn’t seem fair because nicotine itself is a stimulant similar to caffeine and does not, on its own, cause cancer. Therefore I don’t see how this non-smoking ban, based on a nicotine test, is accurate.

    What if someone had stopped smoking quite a while ago, but was still using the nicotine patch or gum as maintenance to avoid smoking cigarettes? Again, would they be branded a “smoker” based on test results?

    If you fail the test but explain you are NOT a cigarette smoker, (and explain why you have nicotine in your system) do you then pass? And what if someone is not a cigarette smoker in general but smoked a cigar to celebrate a life event over the weekend, then had a surprise “smoking test” Monday morning, would they lose their job? Most people who smoke cigars don’t even inhale, but I’m sure there is nicotine absorption.

    It seems like the smoking test might have some problems that need to be addressed. Or maybe this has already been taken into consideration, but if so all I’ve heard in the news is that if you have nicotine in your system then you’re fired.

    Apparently doctors generally agree that nicotine itself is actually good for you:

    Perhaps someone who knows more about the test could explain the smoking test itself with more detail because right now it seems unfair and probably illegal.

  5. Sherry Epley says:

    OOPS! That’s the Medical Information Bureau. . . please check them out for an “eye opening” understanding of just how much data insurance companies have about you. . .

  6. tom jack says:

    I smoked 4 yes FOUR packs a day for 20 years and quit cold turkey. It can be done. Saying this, I have nothing against smokers, but a hell of a lot against the county commissioners. Just who the HELL do they think they are telling employees they cannot purchase and use a legal product on their own time? They ALL need to be thrown out of office.

  7. confidential says:

    I am way over 60 years old…and all my younger brothers and sisters that unlike me, took up smoking thru their lives are dead or with failing health’s. I begged to them for a life time to stop their chain smoking to no avail, my younger sister is already gone in spite of her love of life and my 15 years younger brother had two cardiac arrest already and lives always concerned when the next one will come around. He given up smoking after the first one, but was too late, the damage was already done.
    The other two given up smoking as well but also late enough to have also serious health issues developing. I am the oldest of the siblings and breaks my heart to know that is not just good luck that I am in much better health that they do…the difference is that I never smoked….I have nothing against smokers as my siblings are or were smokers…an a dearest girlfriend of mine is too, while her dad is dying of lung cancer. I experienced and realize that is a choice between life or death for most and that is why I keep my distance from second hand smoke.

  8. None of your business says:

    I personally think there should be a maximum BMI employees may reach before being terminated/denied employment. Since were getting into the cost of healthcare and all. I cant stand that “STUPID” people don’t care about their bodies….. Oh wait, it’s their own body, which is nobody’s damn business!

  9. Ohno says:

    Just for the record:

    1. ” Stupid people smoke” The President smokes , or smoked.
    2. Ted Turner also said Ash Wednesday observers were ” Jesus Freaks” ( he did apologize)
    3. Ted Turner also said foes of abortion were ” bozos”
    4. Ted Turner also said ” What’s wrong with Iran having 10 Nukes?
    5. Ted also married 3 times, but now says 4 girlfriends at the same time is easier.

    Note: Mr. Turner is free to say and feel whatever he wants to, but never did he ban smokers from a job.
    Not sure I’d start the article with this ” authority”.

  10. Lori says:

    Where has the county attorney been when this topic has been on the table? What the hell are we paying him hundreds of thousands of dollars to do; watch the commissioners break laws and make fools of themselves? Medical costs are a drop in the bucket compared to what Hadeed, Coffey, Mayer, Laundrie, Sherman and Faith are being paid… the math folks!

  11. DP says:

    First let me start by saying, I’m not advocating for or against smoking, it’s your personnel CHOICE. With that being said, I have no issues with whatever city, county or governmental agency, or private employer for that matters, implanting a no smoking policy or not hiring people who have used any tobacco products prior to applying for employment within the last year. I’m not going to argue about the costs for insurance, or any other health issue that may or may not be relevant to this issue. That’s what we have studies that have been done on tobacco use and non tobacco use, you can believe it or not, again that’s your CHOICE. As you can see I have used all CAPS on one word “CHOICE”, my reasons is to point out that it’s the persons CHOICE whether or not they want to apply, and or be employed with any business, or governmental agency that has a no tobacco use policy. So to say the county is trampling on their rights is just absurd, again it’s their CHOICE if they want or need employment. I see no problems or rights being violated here.

  12. Bill says:

    It’s ok to smoke—just don’t inhale

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