Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Cough, cough

At the recent Rhode Island Minority Health Advisory Council annual meeting, a hospital executive announced that his institution had a policy of not hiring smokers. He apparently thought he was going to win himself some luuuvvvv. Sadly, no. He got pelted with accusations of discrimination and contempt for workers.

It seems what his hospital is doing is all the rage, which I hadn't known at the time. As the NYT article points out, smoking is much more prevalent among less well educated and lower income people, so this policy is keeping aspiring housekeeping and transportation staff unemployed. It isn't having much effect on executives or surgeons.

Another reason it's discriminatory, which the NYT article doesn't note, is that African American and Latino neighborhoods have a much higher density of tobacco vendors and tobacco advertising. This is not necessarily a conspiracy by the tobacco companies. Well, okay, maybe it is. But it's also a function of the kinds of businesses you find in poor neighborhoods -- lots of little stores that depend on vice to get by, liquor stores and bodegas whose high profit items are booze, lottery tickets, junk food and tobacco. (Yes, yes I'm very intimately acquainted with the author of this study.) The tobacco distributors give them discounts on merchandise, free products to sell such as lighters, and store supplies such as clocks, counter mats, and display cases in exchange for putting up tobacco advertisements.

So once again, the people are getting double, triple and fourfle whammied. Every time they go to the grocery store, there are tobacco ads in the windows and on the walls, and a big pile of cigarettes is in their face behind the counter; there are more smokers among their friends and family; and they have fewer resources to help themselves quit. Now they can't get a job.

I don't want anybody to smoke. I want tobacco companies to go out of business and their executives to go to jail. They are mass murderers. But who is that gets screwed? Their victims. This is the wrong way to go about it.

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