Gack! I Never Thought I’d Say It…

The words just don’t want to come out of my mouth – hang on a sec while I give my chest a thump – okay, here goes: It’s time for all of us to stand up for our local smokers’ rights. See, I’m passionately anti-tobacco. I watched cigarettes kill my dad. I see patients struggle with hideous, smoking-caused diseases, and still can’t quit smoking. This isn’t rare – we’re talking every single day I’m at clinic. When you multiply the numbers across America, the total devastation from cigarettes (and the total profit) is mind-boggling. I see patients with lots of different kinds of addictions, but smoking is one deep-rooted parasite once it gets its claws into you. I also see secondhand smoke horrors – both wicked asthma in household members, and lung disease in spouses who’ve lived with heavy smokers without ever taking a puff. But, proving you should never say never, here I am, Doc Gurley, calling on all Americans to stand up and defend your local smoker. What the heck could bring me to this point? Here’s what:

Whirlpool fired 39 smokers. Why? Whirlpool charged smokers a $500-a-year extra fee for their health insurance. These 39 people said they didn’t smoke – the idea is that they said this to avoid the surcharge – and then were “witnessed” smoking at their work. Why should you or I care about these “liars”? Here’s why:

When insurance companies start adding surcharges for behaviors, it’s only a matter of time until it’s you or me standing in the cross-hairs. How long until there is a surcharge for being overweight? Or how about a surcharge for choosing the wrong set of parents? Some insurance companies are already documenting who smokes (in order to assess a surcharge) by taking blood samples during enrollment. If you think this same blood sample can’t be sent to see if you have a breast cancer gene, you are hopelessly naive optimistic. Here’s what I suggest – the only way insurance companies can pull this off is if we go along with it. They justify this “surcharge” by saying it will reduce costs for those of us who are pure non-smokers. Who among us is foolish enough to believe they won’t just pocket that money and boost their profits? Any hands? If you believe they won’t keep this fee, I’d like to sell you some miracle cure water and a time-share in Iceland- two for one, such a deal. Surcharges are just a new ploy for profiteering. Blame the victim. Get everyone to turn on the person that they see as a “dead weight.” But I say, don’t let them throw anyone out of the life-raft, or the next round, it might be you. So what can you do to prevent this disaster from happening to you?

1) If your company’s health plan is instituting a smoking surcharge – complain to human resources. Loudly. In writing. Even if you don’t smoke. Especially if you don’t smoke.

2) If human resources says they want this surcharge to reduce costs – tell them you don’t want a break on your premiums. Sure, the first year or so they might give non-smokers a reduction, but believe me, it won’t last. And the surcharges will spread. Refuse the reduced premium even if it sticks in your craw. Keep in mind that we’re all in this together. The only way you can keep yourself from being next is by standing up for the people they’re going after now.

3) Start a petition. Get other people at your work informed. This is an ugly, slippery slope. How would you like to be fired one day because you were caught on videotape, eating a slice of bacon?

Doc Gurley motto: Hate the smoke. Not the smoker.

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