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Smokers drag down a workplace

I’m headed off to Seattle for the weekend for the hajj to the Mecca of marijuana, the 16th Annual Seattle Hempfest.  This year I am a featured speaker: 12:45pm Saturday on the McWilliams stage and 6:45pm Sunday on the Main stage.  I’ll also be originating my radio show from Seattle’s KPTK AM station (listen live Saturday, 9am-11am Pacific).  My opinion piece regarding the DEA raid on a local Oregon medical marijuana grower will be published in this Friday’s Portland Tribune.  And an interview of me was just posted today on the NORML Audio Stash podcast.

Oh, and I work a full-time 50-hour-a-week job, volunteer 10 hours a week, and do some consulting on the side, too.  Take that, lazy shiftless stoner slacker stereotype!

Anyhoo, before I immerse myself in the next 96 hours of cannabis activism, I thought I’d drop by with a cute li’l story about America’s most dangerous drug: tobacco (kills more people annually than alcohol + legal drugs + illegal drugs combined.) 

See, while companies build cigarette smoker shelters and allow tobacco addicts multiple fifteen minute breaks per day, companies also drug-test employees to root out the potheads (urine testing is near worthless to root out hard drugs; they leave the system in less than three days, unlike THC’s 30-day testable period) because, allegedly, potheads are such a safety risk and drain on productivity and health care expenses.

I always found that ironic.  Me, the guy who arrives early, works through lunch, and leaves late, I’m the sick dangerous unproductive one, and not Monty the Marlboro Man puffing his third fag before lunch*?

Well, well, turns out that my hunches were right all along… (CNN cut’n’paste goodness follows below)

In a study of more than 14,000 Swedish workers, Petter Lundborg, Ph.D., an economist at the Free University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, found smokers took an average of almost 11 more sick days than non-smokers.

The number was adjusted to account for smokers’ tendency to choose riskier jobs and have poorer underlying health, bringing the difference to just below eight days a year, Lundborg wrote in his study, which was published in the April 2007 issue of Tobacco Journal.

These days, employers nationwide are implementing smoke-free policies, or offer reimbursement for smoking cessation programs. According to a 2000 Gallup poll, 95 percent of Americans, smokers and non-smokers, now believe companies should either ban smoking totally in the workplace or restrict it to separately ventilated areas.

…In contrast, in 2005, Michigan-based health care firm Weyco introduced a policy banning its staff from smoking – even away from the workplace. The firm implemented the ban to keep health costs down. Weyco gave its staff an ultimatum at the end of 2004 – either stop smoking completely or leave their jobs. Four workers refused to take the test and left their jobs voluntarily, although the company said it was preparing to dismiss them.

Employers that hire smokers bear indirect costs, including more employee absenteeism, productivity losses ($92 billion) and increased early retirement due to smoking-related illness.

Any cigarette smokers out there who wish to complain that their employer shouldn’t be dictating one’s personal health choices, invading their privacy through seizing their pee, and requiring abstinence from a drug as a condition of employment?  If so, I’ve got this great poem by Pastor Neimoller I’d like you to read.

Fat people, they’re coming for you next.  Mandatory cholesterol screenings, over 200, no job for you.  No hires of BMIs over 25.  All that obesity causes lack of productivity and increased health care costs for the company, you know.  And if you’re an obese smoker?  Well, hell, forget it, bub, just grab yourself a shopping cart and make your way to Skid Row.  No job for you.

We really need to think about what a worker’s rights should be in this country.  Most of these workplace invasions of privacy are allowed because your 4th & 5th Amendment rights have to do with your interaction with agents of the law, not agents of commerce.  You have a “choice”, after all, you don’t have to go to work for a company that doesn’t hire stoners, smokers, or fatties.  You’re voluntarily surrendering your rights in exchange for a paycheck, which, after all, is perfectly legal because no law is requiring you to earn a paycheck.

Uh huh.  Some “choice”.  Just how much of our lives must we surrender to our capitalist overlords?  Forty hours a week isn’t enough, they want you to behave all 168 hours a week.

Fortunately, economic realities are starting to affect this dynamic.  Many companies in my home state of Oregon are giving up on marijuana testing, because if they keep testing, they just can’t get enough employees to do the work.  (An estimated 300,000 of the state’s 3.7 million are regular cannabis consumers [Miron, “The Budgetary Implications of Marijuna Prohibition”, www.prohibitioncosts.org], and less than that are adults in the workforce, so perhaps one in ten or fewer Oregonians is a friend of Mary.)

I can’t wait to see the fallout if companies start cracking down on nicotine addicts.  Those people can get really cranky without their smoke.

Blenders, enjoy the weekend.  If you’re near Seattle and wanna grab a coffee, email me at radicalruss ‘at’ gmail.com – I love face-to-face meetings with online acquaintences.  I’ll be back after the weekend with a review of however much I can remember… –“R”R


* Never miss an opportunity to make use of the British slang for cigarettes to set up a gay double entendré…

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