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ALASKA — Yes, this one can be filed in the ‘blatant discrimination’ category. According to Dermot Cole, columnist for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, the University of Alaska is considering instituting a ban on the hiring of tobacco users as early as July. No, this isn’t discrimination anywhere near as ugly as the sort that’s based on race, gender, or creed. But it’s discrimination all the same and, as is usually the case, it is based on ill-thought-out, arbitrary assumptions and biases. Remember, we’re talking about the legal consumption of a legal substance. In your own home. Off the clock.

It seems that the main arguing point for putting such a ban in place (besides the always popular, ‘because it’s not good for you’) is to save the University money by reducing the tobacco-associated health costs that its insurance must cover. That makes sense — the University, after all, is a business and must look to keep costs down just as any other business must. So why not charge an extra fee or raise the premiums for those employees who smoke?

Apparently the U of A did give a bit of thought to that option, but concluded that such fees/charges might come off as a bit too ‘punitive’ or ‘intrusive’, and that they would be difficult to enforce. Agreed.

A future U of A non-hire.

So, to get around this, the University is simply considering not hiring them at all. The University would presumably conduct a pre-employment ‘nicotine test’ (perhaps right after testing for the presence of caffeine, liberal beliefs, and bacon-double cheeseburgers) that would separate the guilty from the innocent.

Let’s be clear here: That health costs for smokers are generally higher than those for non-smokers is a pretty widely agreed-upon fact, and as such, employers that provide health coverage to their workers have very good reason to take this information into consideration when implementing their healthcare policies. By simply not hiring these potentially overly-expensive employees in the first place, the problem is solved.

Sure, adopting such a hiring policy is harsh, and should be illegal (actually, it is illegal in 29 states), but it makes perfect sense from a business’ perspective.

But why stop there? How about refusing to hire fat people?  Or people that indulge in a couple of gin & tonics after work each day, while sitting in their own recliner in their own house?  Or anyone over the age of, say, 45?  Why haven’t we heard about these ideas being discussed?  Do old age, obesity, and alcoholism cost businesses that much less in healthcare costs than smoking does? — so much less that it’s simply a non-issue?

It took only a cursory amount of research to find that the opposite is true. According to one study, healthcare costs associated with smoking and alcoholism were far lower than those associated with obesity and normal aging — in some cases, up to 3 or 4 times lower. Another study (this one conducted in order to estimate the medical and indirect costs to the Department of Defense that are associated with smoking, obesity, and alcoholism) included dollar amounts to go along with their findings:

The DoD spends an estimated $2.1 billion per year on medical care associated with smoking, obesity, and alcoholism. The breakdown is as follows:

— cost of medical care associated with tobacco use = $564 million
cost of medical care associated with obesity = $1.1 billion
— cost of medical care associated with alcoholism = $425 million

A quick bit of arithmetic and it becomes quite clear: obesity-related costs amount to about double what tobacco-related costs do.

And, mind you, this study was published in 2007 — what do you think today’s numbers look like?  And if you’re going to consider that, you must also consider the fact that smoking rates in this country have been steadily falling while obesity rates are steadily rising.

Conclusion: Hey, University! — Wake up and smell the lack of logic in the air! Perhaps it’s time to rethink your so-called line of thinking. If your true aim is to save yourself and your employees some money by snubbing tobacco users, well, clearly there are much bigger fish to fry.

To which the University might reply: "Yeah, pretty much."

 

OTHER ARTICLES YOU MIGHT CARE TO PERUSE:

Speaking of alcoholism: What exactly happens to wine once it enters a typical man?
Click here to find out why we hired Musa Luna, despite the fact that she smokes 1.6 packs per day
Besides bacon-double cheeseburgers & cigarettes, what else can be defined as ‘delectable’?
– Other ‘reasonable’ reasons for unreasonable things that we humans do…
Will the University decide to hire ‘synthetic biologists’ (assuming that they don’t use tobacco, of course) in the near future?


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