Cigarette smokers' revenge

Larry Elder

5/5/2005 12:00:00 AM - Larry Elder

No more smokers. Is the next step no more Democrats?

 So the CEO of a Michigan company announced a no-more-smokers policy. Employees of Weyco Inc. could not smoke at the office, in the parking lot, in an ally or even at home. Weyco founder Howard Weyers gave his employees who smoked 15 months warning and offered them smoking cessation courses. Weyco eventually fired or forced out workers who refused to take nicotine tests to show that they did not smoke.

 "We're not telling you, you can't smoke," said Weyco CFO Gary Climes. "We're telling you, you can't smoke and work here." Weyco says it expects to reduce its health-care costs. Action on Smoking and Health, an anti-smoking advocacy group, says that the cost of smokers' medical care is $3,000 a year more than non-smokers, and that lost productivity caused by illness and smoking breaks during the workday costs the employer another $2,000 a year per smoker.

 Across the country, nearly 5,000 municipalities require 100 percent smoke-free workplaces and/or restaurants and/or bars. Some localities go even farther. In Montgomery County, Md., councilmen approved one of the most restrictive anti-smoking measures in the nation, setting stiff fines for people who smoke in their own homes if it offends their neighbors.

 "You can smoke in your house, but if you smoke on your property or in your home, that smoke cannot interfere unreasonably with your neighbor," said Isiah Leggett, a Montgomery council member."

 In San Francisco, the Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance banning smoking in all city parks. The simple act of lighting up a cigarette while outdoors in a San Francisco park will cost you several hundred dollars in fines. The ordinance extends to city parks, recreation centers and open spaces.

 Taking this to the next logical step, Investors Property Management, a Seattle-based company, simply refuses to hire cigarette smokers. But not because of health-care costs. Vice president Dieter Benz says he stopped hiring smokers three years ago because he did not want his company associated with the negative image of cigarette smokers.

 "The image of smokers is they aren't well educated, they don't care about themselves or others, they are less mentally stable," said Benz. "We don't want that image associated with our company, so we won't hire them." Wow.

 So smokers look bad, and -- as a class -- lead less happy lives. There is some support for Benz's claim. Recent studies find smokers 4.7 times more likely to suffer from major depression than the general population. Dozens of other surveys show cigarette users more likely to have anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, alcoholism and drug addiction. Smokers also demonstrate higher levels of neuroticism and high-risk behaviors, and demonstrate poorer impulse control than nonsmokers.

 Researchers at Michigan State University and Detroit's Henry Ford Health System found that daily smokers were 174 percent more likely than nonsmokers to seriously consider or attempt suicide. And a study of almost 7,000 Navy recruits entering active duty in 2001 found that smokers were five times more likely to have skipped classes in high school and more likely to have committed crimes than nonsmokers.

 Weyco Inc. and Investors Property Management may be onto something. If employers seek to control costs, improve morale, boost the company image and reduce workplace drama, why not refuse to hire ... Democrats?

 Democrats -- compared to Republicans -- on average are less affluent, more unhappy, more prone to anti-social behavior, more prone to self-destructive behavior, and more likely to have been shot at, robbed or burglarized. More of them see X-rated movies, more of them smoke, and they're less likely to be married and more likely to have separated or divorced.

 George Washington University professor Lee Sigelman looked at 22 years of survey data collected by University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center. Overall, he found Democrats less affluent, more distrustful, more sickly and more suicidal, and thus doomed to an earlier death. In short, Democrats as a class -- like smokers -- have, uh, issues. So let's just extend this hiring ban to cover unhappy, anti-social, self-destructive, unhealthy Democrats.

 And what about last year's "Primetime Live" sex survey? It found Republicans, more than Democrats, to be satisfied with their sex lives, more likely to wear something sexy to entice their partner and more likely to be in a committed relationship, in which they claim to be very satisfied. The survey also found that Republicans are less likely to cheat on their partner or to fake orgasms. No wonder Democrats are unhappy, unhealthy and anti-social.

 Poor smokers. Can't smoke in the office, can't smoke on the factory floor, can't smoke in a company car. You can't smoke in a restaurant. You can't go outside, down the street, down the ally or down the manhole. You gotta go three-and-a-half miles, you'll see a Denny's, make a right, if you come to an International House of Pancakes, you've gone too far.

 But take comfort. Things could be worse. You could be a smoker -- and a Democrat.