Way back in May, I wrote a column about Monroe County’s decision to quit hiring tobacco users for county jobs effective January 1. That’s all forms of tobacco: cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, snuff, etc. Essentially, this new policy “grandfathers” in existing tobacco user employees while preventing any new ones from being hired. The County Commission did, however, decide that a permitted “recreational use” was five tobacco uses in three months.

So, inquiring minds may wonder about just how this ban will be enforced. Believe it or not, county employees will be subject to nicotine testing. I swear I am not making this up.

If this weren’t so laughable, it would be actually amusing.

I’m just trying to figure out the ramifications for failing one’s nicotine test. What if the employee is on “the patch” or nicotine gum and not smoking? What if the employee’s nicotine test takes place the day after one of the “permitted” five recreational tobacco uses in three months? What if a non-smoking employee tests false positive after spending an evening in a smoky bar? Will the Commissioners be tested? And what happens if they fail? Will tobacco users be prohibited from running for County Commission? (Real good luck in enforcing that one.)

I know that the underlying basis for this is that tobacco use is a “health” issue. As I wrote before, where does the health-consciousness of the County Commission stop? What’s next? A fast-food-eating prohibition? 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? A ban on unprotected sex? And what about the Holy Grail – the national pastime of the Conch Republic – consuming alcoholic beverages? Will the Commission adopt a permitted “recreational use” provision defining the maximum amount of alcoholic beverages within a given time frame?

And seriously, when is the county going gluten-free? (Okay, not really seriously…)

And what happens if Amendment 2 passes and a county employee has a legitimate prescription?

Other agencies like the Sheriff’s Office already have a tobacco ban in place. And there are certain jobs that require their employees to meet certain physical and health requirements. I have no problem with that when it comes to meeting employment standards for jobs that require people to be capable of certain physical tasks.

But this isn’t just a health issue. Seriously, if a county employee enjoys a daily cigar or pipe or bit of chew during their off-hours, how does it affect his or her ability to expedite a building permit? This particular issue is an issue about an overreaching employer attempting to control the off-duty behavior of its employees who may choose to engage in a perfectly legal activity outside of the workplace. Does anyone else but me have a problem with this?

We will see if disgruntled tobacco-using county employees decide to rise up at the oppressiveness of The Man. For all the right reasons there may be to do something like this, there sure remains something fundamentally wrong about it. And don’t believe for a minute that these draconian prohibitions will stop at tobacco use.

Smoke ’em if you got ’em… while you still can.

John Bartus is a singer/songwriter, City Council member and former Mayor of the City of Marathon, Chamber of Commerce Board Member, and President of the Marathon Rotary Club. John performs Thursdays at Sparky’s Landing, and Saturdays at the Key Colony Inn. Join John with the rest of the Monday Nite Madness crew at Sparky’s Landing each Monday, 7 p.m. www.johnbartus.com.

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  1. Big Brother, always closer!

    Obesity is actually a LOT more costly to health insurance than tobacco use which kills us nice and quick in our late 50s and 60s just before we bother to collect retirement, so I hope that sugar testing is next and that only slim new employees get hired.

    Now of course being fat IS protected even though smoking is not a sin but gluttony is.

    Ahhhh… poor world!

    I’d be weary to start a career for an employer who is so invasive of my private life.

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