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Smokers' Bill of Rights

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We at the Scene dig smoke-free clubs (Family Wash is the reigning favorite), and we like the fact that those who toke have to do it away from the rest of us—even if it's in the rain, snow or blazing heat. We think our smoking colleagues probably aren't acting in their best interests, but then again, we routinely sit around eating whole canisters of Pringles and think nothing of going out and drinking four pints (or more) in one sitting. Who's to say which is worse?

So while we find no real merits in cigarettes, we nevertheless find it alarming that American companies are increasingly ganging up on our smoky-lunged friends, not by isolating their behavior outside but by refusing to hire—and sometimes even firing—those who light up a perfectly legal product. One recent report estimated that as many as 6,000 private employers no longer hire smokers, most citing rising health care costs as the motivating factor. Workers are being subjected to testing, or risk losing their livelihoods.

But by creating "a class of people who are no longer employable," as one indignant civil rights advocate recently put it, "you start down a very slippery slope." It's true. What about unsafe sex, obesity, lead foot behind the wheel, hunting, sky-diving, alcoholism and those who choose to have elective liposuction? No one disputes that smoking is unhealthy, but so are many of the other behaviors American people are free to engage in (free being the operative word here).

Some 30 states have statutes in place forbidding government agencies from discriminating against off-duty tobacco use, and some even ban both private and public employers from discriminating against lawful activity during nonworking hours. It may not give us broad bragging rights, but this is one of the (very) few areas in which Tennessee is ahead of the game, having passed smokers' protections in 1990.

Others need to take a long drag on that.

Stop Her

Surely readers know us well enough to realize that we're typically on the side of justice, that we're cynical about our government and leaders and that we don't favor discrimination of any kind (see above). But state Rep. Henri Brooks, a Memphis Democrat, needs to learn some new tricks—namely, ones that don't cry racism at every turn.

For the second year in a row (it failed the first time), she's introduced legislation calling for the Tennessee Highway Patrol to basically self-track racial profiling. Never mind that, while this can be a very legitimate issue among police departments—particularly in inner cities—there is not a shred of evidence that the THP is harsher to people of color.

THP primarily stops interstate speeders, many of whom they never even get a good look at until they've pulled them over. While the agency isn't opposing this bill (a sign that they have nothing to hide), the fiscal note on the legislation is roughly $70,000, money that could be used in more constructive ways, much like Brooks' time.


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