More Than a Feeling

Let's face it: the anti-smoking campaign doesn't work. Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, and a slew of other illnesses, but roughly 25 percent of American adults light up. Every year 400,000 Americans die from tobacco related illnesses.

But there's another campaign that failed miserably: the FDA's food guide pyramid. In theory, if everyone followed the serving and proportion guidelines and got 30 minutes of physical activity per day, nobody would be fat. On the contrary, about 65 percent of Americans are overweight, with thirty percent being severely obese. Every year, 300,000 deaths can be attributed to poor diet and inactivity.

If you're fat and/or you like to puff, take note of the following: it costs billions of dollars a year to treat medical conditions that occur in smokers and overweight Americans, and employers are starting to take note. Rather than pay ridiculously high insurance premiums, they want all their employees to be healthy, and some employers are willing to use force if necessary.

Howard Weyers, sole owner of Michigan-based Weyco Inc., told his employees they had to quit smoking or they would lose their jobs. He gave them a year to do it, and 20 employees managed to kick the habit. However, when judgment day came, four employees refused to be tested for nicotine use. Those four employees subsequently quit their jobs. Weyers is not stopping with smokers. Next on his target list: obese employees. Since when can you lose a job over a legal activity you engage in outside the workplace?

Of course, employers really don't care about the individual rights of smokers and fatties. They only care about their insurance costs. These people are health risks, and the way the employer sees it, something needs to be done to keep the insurance costs down, even if it's a violation of your rights. And even though it sucks to be punished for enjoying your "rights," not losing your job is good motivation for giving it up.

This situation benefits both the employee and the employer. You can look at this situation and get angry about rights, or you can get angry for infringing your own rights.

Quitting smoking and losing weight are the two hardest things you will ever do, but you'll be better off. So will the insurance companies. You don't have to do it now, but be prepared. Nobody wants to be called "Chunky Style."

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on Feb. 3 2005.