What were they smoking?

Last week, the Monroe County Commission ruled that smokers have no place in the Monroe County workplace. The Commission voted unanimously to prohibit hiring tobacco users for county jobs effective January 1. That’s all forms of tobacco: cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, snuff, etc. The Sheriff and county Fire/EMS departments already have such a prohibition.

Additionally, the Commission almost voted to set a deadline of January 2016 for all existing county workers to quit smoking or pay insurance surcharges. Essentially, this new policy “grandfathers” in existing smoker employees while preventing any new ones from being hired. (“I can smoke and you can’t! Nyah, nyah!”)

What a (partial) load of crap.

While I agree with a good bit of the rationale behind this vote, I completely disagree with the draconian measures adopted by this Commission. Frankly, it’s none of their damn business what an adult county employee (or family member) does with his or her free time as long as it is legal and ethical.

I understand there are additional insurance costs for smokers – anyone who has ever shopped for health or life insurance knows that to be true. And if someone makes the conscious decision to smoke – with all the information about the hazards of smoking that’s out there – then he or she should have no problem with paying additional insurance costs.

Keep in mind, however, that we all die of something, and that not only smokers get chronic and life-threatening diseases. And just think of all the money the pension fund will save from smokers dying off early! (That was just a joke….)

Ban workplace smoking? Absolutely. Require smokers to pay additional insurance costs? No problem. Prohibit an employee (or an employee’s family member) from engaging in a legal activity in that employee’s time off? BIG problem.

Critics of government are quick to deride such “nanny state” initiatives. This is right up there with New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s “no giant sodas” law. What’s next? A fast-food-eating prohibition? (The Golden Arches Law.) A bad carb/bad fat/no exercise ordinance? An ordinance outlawing meat-eating? A ban on sunbathing without SPF 50 or above? A prohibition on hiring extreme sports participants? And what about the Holy Grail – the national pastime of the Conch Republic – consuming alcoholic beverages? Will the Commission adopt a “You Drink and You’re Done” law? (And how could anyone deal with county government and not be tempted to knock one back?)

Or will the Commission decide for its employees just how much they are permitted to eat and drink? The Commission actually did that with tobacco, deciding that a permitted “recreational use” was five tobacco uses in three months. So someone who smokes but one cigar a week, and doesn’t inhale, will be in violation of the county’s new prohibition policy just as much as a two-pack-a-day cigarette smoker. That’s just dumb.

No matter how well intentioned, a stupid law is just that: a stupid law. And this particular one goes just a bit too far. Not that I really want to see my taxes go up, but a part of me hopes that somebody sues the county to see the inane part of this policy overturned. Government has no business issuing blanket prohibitions of the legal activities of its citizens, even if they are off-work government employees.

It always amuses me when I hear people say that “the Founding Fathers would be spinning in their graves” when discussing modern government. Although in this case, it may be true – many of our Founding Fathers were tobacco farmers.

Light ‘em up while you can.


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  1. Just a little bit of clarification. I have no problem with fire and police services being told they can’t smoke and be on the job. There is a legal presumption in these two arenas (definitely fire and in many cases cops) that ANY lung or cancer-related disease is job related and thus the responsibility of the employer. In this case, I would think that the employer has an absolute right to make sure smokers aren’t adding to the problem. Especially in the fire service where a long line of studies show that smoking adds further to the already elevated risk of lung diseases.

  2. Hey, i dont smoke anymore and actually hate the stench, it contributed to my health issues… BUT, I have the right to sit upwind, not to dictate to others how they should manage their lives, no matter how it seems to affect my “perfect” life 😉

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