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Smokers Fumed Over 2005 Weyco Smoking Ban Policy, But Tennessee Hospital Follows Suit

4 comments

Okemos, MI—Weyco Inc., a medical benefits administrator, instituted a policy in January 2005 that banned employees from using tobacco, even during non-work hours. In fact, the company required employees to submit to random mandatory smoking breath tests. As a result, four of the two-hundred employees at the company quit rather than submit to the testing. The controversial move outraged some civil liberties groups; nevertheless, Michigan is one of twenty states that have no laws preventing employers from firing employees who smoke—both on and off the job. In an interview, Weyco founder and chief executive, Howard Weyers, argued that it was difficult for him to enact the policy but that he was forced to do so because of his rising healthcare costs. Before the policy in 2005, Weyco Inc. also quit hiring tobacco users in early 2003 and forbade the staff from smoking on the premises. In 2004, the company also added a fine of $50 a month per worker who smoked and refused to attend cessation classes.

Michigan happens to be an “at-will” state, or a state where it is legal for an employer to fire an employee at any time for any reason, except where anti-discrimination laws apply. However, collective bargaining agreements, express employment contracts, and implied employed contracts, also prevent employers from firing “at-will”. While quitting smoking is particularly important to reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, and respiratory illness, civil liberties groups are especially concerned over how far company policies may go in threatening individual privacy.

Now, a Chattanooga, TN hospital is following suit. Beginning February 1, Memorial Hospital will no longer hire new employees that smoke and anyone offered employment at the hospital will have to submit to a test for nicotine use. While company policies that restrict hiring of smokers are rare, policies preventing smoking on the worksite are not. In fact, according to public health expert, Matthew Farrelly, director of the Public Health Policy research program at RTI, 80 percent of workplaces ban smoking indoors and 21 states have laws preventing smoking in bars, restaurants and all other workplaces. Overall, there hasn’t been much negative impact on the businesses that chose to go entirely smoke-free. However, smoking advocates maintain that the laws have gone too far in restricting their freedom to smoke.

4 Comments

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    Mr. Weyers claims he instituted his 2003 discrimination policy because of “his rising healthcare costs.” So, why doesn’t this article, seven years later, trumpet how much lower his premiums are today? Of course to be fair, general insurance inflation would have to be accounted for, but to justify such a discriminatory policy Weyco should have to show quite significant savings… say at least 20% or so below the norm.

    Can they? I doubt it: or else it WOULD be trumpeted in this article and elsewhere.

    Could the rationale for the policy have simply been a lie to justify a man’s prejudices or his desire to play Big Brother and socially engineer the lives of others? Well, let’s see: I’m sure Mr. Weyers and/or his bookkeepers/accountants and such will be reading this article and comments. I challenge them to officially post the health insurance cuts they’ve achieved and properly apportion them between their smoking policy and the “health gym” setups and such that I believe they also instituted back around that period.

    How about it Mr. Weyers? Show the world by opening your insurance books to some neutral reporters.

    Meanwhile, I also take issue with the penultimate sentence in the article itself. While it’s often true that businesses that CHOOSE to ban smoking are not hurt (they are often benefited by niche-market economics) those that are forced to ban smoking aren’t always so lucky. To see how antismoking advocates juggle the numbers (and WHY they juggle the numbers) to hide that, visit

    http://www.jacobgrier.com/blog/archives/2210.html

    and read both the article AND my AfterComments.

    Michael J. McFadden,
    Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”

  2. Devon Glass says:
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    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for your comments. I’m a big supporter of the smoking ban in Michigan, but I do understand your concerns about an employer mandating this behavior of employees. It’s quite a fine line to walk on, but with any private employer they can hire and fire whom they choose. I searched around and was not able to find any info about the changes in Weyco’s bottom line after instituting the no smoking policy. I should note the NY Times article is from 2005, so it’s not clear what’s happened since then.

    An opinion piece published in my local paper brought up the point that businesses in states that have gone smoke free have seen an increase in hiring and sales after the ban. I cannot wait till the ban goes into effect. It means I won’t have to wash my clothes after only wearing them out for one night, I can wear business attire without having to have it cleaned immediately, and I don’t have to inhale all those dangerous fumes the smokers put out there. It’s always been strange to me that we allow other people to poison the air we all breath, and it’s somehow considered impolite to ask someone to step outside to smoke. As if the dangerous chemicals are going to be offended I’m not inhaling them. Anyways, see the article linked below. I’d be interested in your thoughts on how a smoking ban is bad for Michigan given the success in other states.

    http://www.lansingstatejournal.com/article/20100201/OPINION02/2010304/1087/OPINION02

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    Hello Devon! :)

    Thank you for a polite and interesting response despite our disagreement. Let me respond in kind… :)

    1) Weyco: I’m pretty sure we would have heard a followup on the projected savings. The Antismokers wouldn’t miss out on something like that.

    2) Regarding hiring increases, I would like you to look at three things. The first is the Grier column at:

    http://www.jacobgrier.com/blog/archives/2210.html

    and most particularly, my AfterComments to it. I believe you have been misled about the success of smoking bans economically and that particular example should open the door for such consideration. The second is a study that Missouri researcher Dave Kuneman and I did back in 2005. You can read it in full at:

    http://kuneman.smokersclub.com/economic.html

    as well as seeing a number of links at the page bottom that might call your impression into question. Third, in terms of a related parameter, gambling revenue, please see the very simple but very clear graph at:

    http://arclightzero.web.officelive.com/Documents/MNGraph.pdf

    The losses in 2008 continue the disastrous fall from the Sept. 2007 total ban. When the “Worldwide Economic Meltdown” hits at the end of 2008 it shows up as little more than a blip compared to what the bans did to Michigan’s charities. And fourth, I would like to send you a .pdf file that summarizes some of these economic arguments while also examining “The Lies Behind The Smoking Bans” from a health study standpoint. I’m Cantiloper over on the AOL system and if you (or anyone else who’d like one) emails me there I’ll send you the short printable file.

    2) Tsk tsk Devon! You really SHOULD wash your clothes after partying for a night, smoke or not! :>

    3) Re “Dangerous Fumes” : Please read the ETS Exposure section at

    http://www.Antibrains.com

    and pay particular attention to the table near the end. If you have any specific substantive criticisms or questions please feel free to share them openly here: I stand behind what I write.

    4) It’s not impolite to ask someone to go outside to smoke as long as you’re polite enough to accompany them. In my experience the vast majority of nonsmokers suddenly change their minds on this aspect of things once November rolls around.

    Thanks again for the polite response. Please look over the links I provided and send me or give me an email address that will accept a .pdf attachment and I’ll be happy to send you a copy of my “Stiletto” for reading and comment if you wish.

    Michael J. McFadden
    Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”

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    Actually, I’d also like to take a minute to respond to two points in link you refer to as backup:

    1) The “peeing in a pool same as a nonsmoking section” image has been around for 20 years and I would guess there are between 5,000 and 10,000 references to it repeated on the internet. There’s one rather important defect with it: The water in the average pool gets changed once per year. The air in any decently ventilated Free Choice bar/restaurant/casino gets changed more like 50,000 times a year. In “antismokerspeak” that’s a 5,000,000 percent difference. So they’re not the same at all.

    2) Secondhand alcohol fumes from your martini may not make the 4 year old at the next table drunk, but under the “no safe level” mantra for Class A Carcinogens they may give him or her cancer. See my piece in the BMJ online at:

    http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/330/7495/812#103642

    “Secondhand Smoke, Alcohol, and Deaths” to see what I’m talking about in that regard.

    - MJM
    P.S. I think the Kuneman page I referred you to in my last posting quite nicely fulfill’s the link’s demand that Free Choice supporters “do some real research on locations that have already instituted a smoking ban and let the numbers speak for themselves.”