2011-06-21 P-D Editorial “Smokers: ‘Move ’em out of here.'” and Letters

I missed this Post-Dispatch editorial, published on June 21, 2011, when it first appeared but two letters from readers alerted me to it today and I went back and retrieved it on-line. The editorial ends with this observation and plea:

Smokers are merely people who struggle with a dangerous and expensive addiction. Some of them, like some non-smokers, are obnoxious. But they deserve better than “Move ’em out of here! They disgust me.”

Here’s the full editorial. Maybe the point is that as long as smokers don’t pollute the air nonsmokers breathe they shouldn’t be treated as pariahs. What do you think?

Doctor-approved Camels cigarette ad

Editorial: Smokers: ‘Move ’em out of here.’

By the Editorial Board | Posted: Tuesday, June 21, 2011 12:00 am Comments (12 as of June 22, 2011, 10:42 pm)

The last cigarette smokers in America were located in a box canyon south of Donner Pass in the High Sierra by two federal tobacco agents in a helicopter who spotted the little smoke puffs just before noon.

So begins “End of the Trail,” a well-known short story by the humorist Garrison Keillor published in 1984 in The New Yorker. The story imagines that the last five smokers “had been on the run since the adoption of the 28th Amendment.”
         Some 27 years later, things aren’t quite that bad for the one in five American adults who still smokes. There has been no 28th Amendment making smoking unconstitutional. But the attitude of the chief tobacco agent in Mr. Keillor’s story is pretty common: “Move ’em out of here! They disgust me.”
         Consider some of the 370 comments posted (at last count) at STLtoday.com to a story in the Friday Post-Dispatch by reporter Blythe Bernhard. Seven SSM Health Care hospitals in the area will start a tobbaco-free hiring policy next month.
         “If you smoke at all you stink of it,” wrote one reader. “You reek. Your eyes are yellow. You have fatty deposits around your eyes. You look old and leathery before your time. Your fingers are dry and cracked, yellow and unattractive. You can’t quit because you are addicted.”
         The other side is heard from: “Our rights are being taken away little by little. First this, then it’ll be if you eat fast food, or Twinkies or if you are single [and] you have sex outside of marriage.”
         Live and let live (or not, as the actuaries suggest) is not an attitude that the Internet encourages.
         A spokesman for SSM said the company took the action to “encourage our employees to take better care of themselves and set good examples for our patients.” A side benefit, he said, is that having “healthier employees does mean lower health care costs.”
         It should be noted that SSM has the absolute right under Missouri law to set rules for its employees’ off-hour drinking and smoking habits. Most companies don’t have that right, but the law makes an exception for religious and church groups and not-for-profit health care organizations. SSM could have applied the rule retroactively to current employees, but it chose not to.
         Still, we wish SSM would rethink the policy. Low-income workers — about a third of whom smoke — will be disproportionately affected. For them, life is hard enough and jobs are scarce enough. And will it really reflect poorly on the hospital if a food-service worker is spotted smoking off-hours?
         Studies show only about one in every 20 physicians in America smokes and only one in every 12 nurses. They know the risks better than most people. Also, they’re more employable than most people.
         As to the fast-food-and-Twinkie argument, that day may come. But right now federal law suggests that obesity is a disability that deserves protection, not a life-choice that can be proscribed.
         Is there a “right” to smoke? No, courts have said smoking is “not fundamental to the concept of ordered liberty.” Further, courts have ruled, smokers do not qualify as a protected class under the 14th Amendment.
         Smokers are merely people who struggle with a dangerous and expensive addiction. Some of them, like some non-smokers, are obnoxious. But they deserve better than “Move ’em out of here! They disgust me.”

Following are the two published letters prompted by the above editorial:

Letters Page: June 24, 2011

Cost of smoking
The editorial “Nicotine stain” (June 21) brought together two separate thoughts. First, Garrison Keillor had the right idea. If smoking is as bad as it is being viewed, maybe it should be illegal, It’s certainly heading that way. Second, how does anyone who is at the poverty level afford to buy cigarettes? The price is about $5 a pack. A two-pack-a-day habit would cost more than over $3,600 per year.

Phillip Wells • Dellwood

Stop enabling
The editorial “Nicotine stain” (June 21) really pushed the limit of responsibility. I do not quarrel with the statistic that “about one-third” of low-income workers smoke. However, for the paper to suggest that this group would be “disproportionately affected” neglects the responsibility to care for one’s self.
         I am shocked by the price of cigarettes. Maybe if poor people would accept responsibility and quit smoking, life would be less hard — by maybe as much a $40 a week — and they might improve their chances of getting a job. Sounds like a “win-win” situation to me.
         When are we going to stop enabling people and relieving them of taking personal responsibility for their lives?

Don Hammond • Lake Saint Louis

6 responses to “2011-06-21 P-D Editorial “Smokers: ‘Move ’em out of here.'” and Letters

  1. marbee [aka Marlene Bakken]

    29 states and the District of Columbia DO have so-called “smoker protection” laws – laws that elevate smokers to a protected class, making it illegal to discriminate against an employee because he or she smokes.
    Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have laws in effect elevating smokers to a protected class. The American Lung Association does not support these types of laws.
    Missouri IS one of them:
    Missouri 1992 MO. REV. STAT. § 290.145
    SSM may want to revisit this rule!

    mogasp reply: I happen to have a flyer on the Missouri Clean Air Act I produced at the time, and circulated to MoGASP members, on my desk You’re partially correct Marlene.
    John Britton, then Tobacco Institute lobbyist, earned his bonus in 1992 by managing to add this amendment to the bill. He was supported in this by the – in my view – misguided lobbyist for the ACLU.
    However, it does specifically exempt “religious and not-for-profit health organizations.”
    Also, Phil Irons, the lobbyist for then Governor John Ashcroft, told me he’d defanged this section by adding this paragraph:
    “This section shall not be deemed to create a cause of action for injunctive relief, damages, or other relief.”

  2. Horacio Prada

    Instead of figthing tooth and nail to defend their nicotine addiction, smokers should devote that energy to overcoming that disgusting habit. They’ll be so much better off once they quit, happier, healthier. There is no reason in the world for a person to continue lighting up.

  3. Sheila Martin

    My doctor laughs when I ask him how many people he has known, that have died from second hand smoke. It appears that paid speaker doctors support this. It also appears that all non profits and foundations, who are lobbying to ban smoking in bars, get their funding from a company who benefits from the selling of nicotine replacement. Including the ACS, the Heart & Lung Associations, AMA, (most doctors are NOT members) even CHurches, are getting grants to lobby, NOT to ban the selling of tobacco, which they claim is killing people, just to ban smoking in bars.

    Why would churches or drug companies want to close little neighborhood bars?
    Those who sell nicotine replacement also sell anti depressants and anti anxiety drugs. The sucide rate has gone up, and doctors say it is because people are feeling isolated. WHat is a great way to isolate people? Deny them their right to assemble.

    mogasp note: E-mail address deleted.

  4. From your post:
    ” Is there a “right” to smoke? No, courts have said smoking is “not fundamental to the concept of ordered liberty.” Further, courts have ruled, smokers do not qualify as a protected class under the 14th Amendment.”
    I must say this is an interesting spin on the 14th amendment, no where in the constitution does it call for or provide for a “protected class”
    http://veritasvincitprolibertate.wordpress.com/2010/06/19/in-defence-of-rand-paul/

    “Prohibition will work great injury to the cause of temperance. It is a species of intemperance within itself, for it goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes. A Prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.”
    Abraham Lincoln

    Marshall P Keith

    mogasp: Just to clarify, when you write “From your post:” you are referring to the Post-Dispatch editorial and NOT to my comments about it.

  5. mogasp: “Just to clarify, when you write “From your post:” you are referring to the Post-Dispatch editorial and NOT to my comments about it.”

    Correct, I guess I should have said from your blog post. I did not mean to imply that those were your words. Sorry if it seemed implied.

    Marshall P Keith

  6. Anyway now I hope it’s clear why I had said Skytop was breaking the law by refusing to hire smokers while SSM is not

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