Reminder: For a comment to be considered it must be accompanied by your full name: first name only or a pseudonym is not normally accepted. Please limit your comment to 1,000 characters (including spaces), and also avoid epithets and personal attacks.
The following is a submission from Michael J. McFadden, author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains,” who is a frequent commenter on this blog, written from the smoker’s perspective. It is in direct response to the Guest commentary “Smokers need not apply” by Tyler S. Gibb, published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on June 28, 2011 and on this blog the following day.
Mr. McFadden takes direct aim at some of Mr. Tyler’s arguments and goes on to draw an analogy between smoking and driving, using quotes from Mr. Tyler’s article. He prefaced his article with the following comment:
Michael J. McFadden’s response to “Smokers need not apply”
Tyler Gibb argued that SSM should be allowed to discriminate against smokers and explained why such discrimination should be legal. He started by explaining that such discrimination is not legally discrimination since smoking is neither immutable or non-volitional and stating that the decision of “beginning to use tobacco … was a personal choice.” Antismoking advocates generally claim that about 90% of those making that “personal choice” are children. Some of us might argue that 17 year olds (up to 19 in CA) are not little children, but in the area of smoking choice and laws that is how they are viewed. Despite being old enough to kill people in countries around the world they are not old enough to understand the health warnings they have seen on TV, read in the newspapers, and heard at school.
So Tyler seems to be arguing that it is fine to punish adults for “personal choices” they made as children. Of course if we want to argue that nicotine is relatively non-addictive then then the immutability of this volitional choice becomes questionable, but I believe most antismoking advocates claim that nicotine is actually highly addictive and often outside the control of the addict. Thus SSM is punishing adults for an immutable condition acquired because of a poor “personal choice” they made as little children — bringing Tyler’s base argument into serious question.
He then argues that smokers are not socially disadvantaged. This is something I would agree with, but it’s unusual to find someone on the antismoking side of the aisle arguing this. Nor does he feel they are politically disadvantaged which would imply that smokers have just as strong a chance voting down a tax increase or ban aimed at them as nonsmokers would. I somehow doubt that 50% of cigarette tax increases and smoking bans have been voted down in the last five years. I rather doubt if even 25% or 10% have. So I think his argument that smokers are not politically disadvantaged is false.
Tyler then moves the argument to ethics and claims the discrimination is ethical because it “encourages employees to develop healthful habits.” If we accept this then we would also have to accept that it would be ethical for SSM to ban drivers, since bicycling is obviously far more healthy than driving. Yes, many would find it inconvenient to go without their cars, but bicycles, trains, busses, and taxis should suffice for all except the ambulance drivers. As Tyler points out, such healthful “encouragement” “is a necessary and ethically justifiable position by SSM.” As a necessary position it must therefore be implemented. It will also have a “direct and identifiable relationship to the mission” of SSM as can be seen there daily as their emergency room treats the children whose lives have been mangled or snuffed under the wheels of Detroit’s Death Machines. And, while less visible, there are also the many early deaths in their regular wards from lung conditions caused by automotive air pollution and heart attacks that would not have occurred if the drivers had spent their lives healthily cycling to work and play.
Such prohibition of allowing current drivers into the work force will, in the same way as the smoking ban, be “placing real, tangible, economic consequences on personal choices that negatively impact society at large. There is little public support for outlawing (private automobile usage, although recent legislation…” and regulation in cities like NY have severely restricted their use by reducing their convenience and increasing parking/toll expenses. The ever-increasing taxes on tobacco, currently averaging 300%+ of base product price, could be applied just as successfully to gasoline: at $15 a gallon Americans would rapidly learn to healthfully bicycle like the Dutch.
As Tyler noted with regard to the smoking ban, “Some fear this will lead down a slippery slope of intrusion by employers into the personal lives of employees, but (such a hospital policy would be) narrowly tailored, directly relevant to its role as a health care provider and fiscally prudent.”
Regarding Tyler’s closing paragraph, perhaps government should mandate pictures of mangled bodies on 50% of cars’ visible surfaces as a reminder of their harm and educate/encourage children to avoid picking up and developing a dependency upon the driving habit. Beyond that, government could “warn the public that (driving) could make you unemployable. Perhaps then individual choices will begin to support our society’s fiscal and health goals.”