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Brad F

If John Deere opened an outpost in Chile or Russia lets say:

Do they:

1) pay higher labor costs to hire from a smaller work pool of non-smokers (? reduces profits--and you can always fire the sick smoker and hire another healthier one)

2) internalize a cessation program and hire all-comers at lower labor costs (wider pool of applicants)

3) Hire all comers and demand the govt pay for cessation programs

How does an American profit maximizing entity behave?

On another front, do you feel smoking is a protected lifestyle choice?


Paul Kelleher

Bill, thanks for this reply.

I should not have put this whole issue in terms of what it is ethical or unethical for employers to do. I wanted to pitch the issue as a social justice one, where the ethics of the thing would be used to guide public policy making, rather than business level decisions. Your posts brings out the many reasons why this should be a public policy issue. In this way, it's quite like banning "discrimination" by insurance companies on the basis of pre-existing conditions. There is a sense in which that kind of discrimination by insurers *needs* to happen for the market to exist at all in the absence of public policy that addresses the defects in the free market.

In your discussion of the gender equity analogy, you say "there are strong reasons to ask employers to accept these [gender equity] costs," and you suggest that the analogous smoking-related reasons are weaker. More specifically, you say:

1. "First, gender equity contributes greatly to the justice of Canadian society -- is the same true for equity between smokers and non-smokers?" I offered my original post in support of a "Yes" answer to this question. Yes, there is a need to promote equity between smokers and non-smokers---*not*, of course, merely because some smoke and some do not. Rather, since smoking behavior is highly correlated class, most smokers face two sets of disadvantages that many non-smokers do not: class disadvantages and, now, the disadvantages of smoking. I am reluctant to add a third set of disadvantages (fewer job prospects) on top of these. So I see going easier on smokers as a way of contributing to greater justice in our society, just as you see gender equity as doing the same.

2. "Second, one can argue that by removing a barrier to the advancement of women, Canada gets much better use of female human capital than the US does." I'm not sure that this reason fails to apply in the case of smokers as well. But even if it does fail to apply, this special reason to pursue gender equity leaves our question about smokers untouched. This is because I have already cited a rationale for disallowing refusals to hire smokers. I would only need a human-capital-related reason if my main reason is inadequate.

3. "Similarly, Canadian children benefit greatly from these policies. Given the spill-over effects...of better-nurtured children, all Canadians benefit from family policies. Can a similar case be made for smoking?" Again, I disagree that this needs to be shown in the case of smoking. After all, my argument proceeds from the premise that smokers are an *already disadvantaged* group that should not be further disadvantaged by hiring policies. When the issue is equity for an already disadvantaged group, it seems to add to the unfairness to insist that redressive policies must also be to the benefit of everyone.

So I believe the case for greater equity "between smokers and non-smokers" is more successful than you think. I am willing, however, to entertain the possibility that harsher treatment of smokers is justified as a preventive measure aimed at children/teens. But even here there are countervailing reasons to prohibit harshness. After all, if class is a determinant of smoking behavior, then reducing smoking parents' range of job options may not be the best way to benefit their children.

Finally, I agree that the government should be the primary sponsor of smoking cessation programs. I was just suggesting that if an employer continues to be concerned about his/her bottom line, then s/he always has the option of offering smoking cessation programs.

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