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Legal but Not Always Allowable

In the ever-widening scope and push to reduce the opportunities and places where one can continue the legal use of tobacco products, the state of South Carolina is considering ending its law protecting smokers in the workplace. While smoking is being increasingly banned by city and county ordinances there is no statewide ban. And while no one can smoke “in” the workplace it cannot be used as a ground for hiring or termination.

But the S.C. Hospital Association wants that to change. The negative effects of smoking on the health, and productivity of workers, and the ripple effects thereof, cost the state some $3 billion dollars a year. And hospitals who deal with the negative effect of smoking and seek to prevent or stop smoking, want to make being smoke-free a condition for employment.

State Sen. Kevin Bryant (R-Anderson), agrees with this idea. He scheduled a hearing before a state Senate Labor, Commerce and Industry subcommittee on April 10th to propose a bill repealing “the state’s 23-year-old law that protects smokers in the workplace.” The proposal would allow SC employers to decline hiring smokers.

But David Sutton, a spokesman for Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA counters: “Adult consumers who use a legal product – and the key (phrase) there is ‘a legal product’ – on their own personal time should be able to do so. We don’t think that hiring or firing decisions should be made for or against those individuals because they choose to use a legal adult product, whether it’s tobacco, whether it is alcohol, whether it is something else.”

As costs due to issues of declining health and the burden placed on the medical and insurance industries to cope with these problems continue to grow into the billions of dollars and thousands of hours of lost productivity per year the state is increasingly being called upon to give relief. While none currently proposes to make the use of tobacco illegal they do want to make its use rare and costly. But the burden must be left solely on the user of tobacco and not anyone down-wind nor upon society itself.

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