I am an emphatic tobacco control advocate. My mother-in-law and my father-in-law both died horribly and young of lung cancer. I yield to no one in my desire to tax the hell out of cigarettes, require aggressive warning labels, the full list. I despise the tobacco industry, and would stop just-short of TP’ing Altria’s corporate headquarters.

I remain dumbfounded that distinguished medical professionals would countenance a policy of refusing to hire smokers. Of course, people shouldn’t smoke. I have no problem with any number of workplace smoking restrictions, particularly in medical settings.

Yet the proper goal of tobacco policy is embrace and help smokers, not to bully them or discriminate against them. Such employment policies are appallingly unfair and discriminatory. I also believe such policies are unethical, particularly when one considers the reality that tobacco use is increasingly concentrated among low-income and less-educated Americans whose economic and political influence is nowhere near what it used to be.

Mayor Bloomberg seems to have overstepped public opinion with his efforts to limit large serving-sizes of sugary drinks. Maybe so, but attacking the Big Gulps seems a much-less disturbing intrusion of the nanny state than a policy which would deny employment to otherwise-qualified smokers.

I’m not sure what people are smoking who advocate such discriminatory policies. They should smoke something else.

[Originally posted at The Reality-based Community]

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Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is the Helen Ross Professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.