OUR VIEW: Effort to repeal Smoker’s Bill of Rights goes too far
November 23, 2014
Last week State Rep. Wes. Culver of Goshen told Goshen News Statehouse Reporter Maureen Hayden that he again plans to carry proposed legislation on behalf of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce that would eliminate the so-called “Smoker’s Bill of Rights” that was passed into state law back in 1991.
That law prevents employers in Indiana from discriminating against employees or potential employees who smoke. Indiana is one of 29 states that protects the rights of smokers in such a way. Culver proposed amending the law with House Bill 1029 during the General Assembly’s short session earlier this year. His bill was assigned to the House Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee and never made it to the floor for a vote.
THE SUMMARY OF HB 1029 indicates that an employer, as a condition of employment, could require a prospective employee to “refrain from using tobacco products outside the course of the prospective employee’s employment.” It would also strike the civil cause of action in the current law allowing potential employees to sue employers for forbidding tobacco use on private time.
Now, we can certainly understand and sympathize with Culver’s and the Chamber’s point of view. We just can’t support it. Successful business people know that sound business decisions are the key to remaining successful. Not hiring smokers, from a numbers standpoint, does seem like a sound business decision.
After all, Indiana has one of the highest smoking rates in the country, estimated to be 21.2 percent among adults. According to a 2012 study from Ball State University, nearly $2.6 billion in productivity is lost and $2.2 billion in health-care costs are incurred each year in Indiana as a result of smoking. That is a legitimate concern and it is reasonable for Culver, a successful businessman in his own right who owns the second largest duck farm in the state, to want to address it. But for a state law to allow employers discretion over the legal activities of employees during their free time is going too far. Where would it stop? People also drink alcohol and eat unhealthy foods. Could employers discriminate against those also?
WE ARE THE FIRST to agree that people shouldn’t smoke. We believe that the statewide smoking ban in public spaces is a responsible progression that finally protects the rights and health of non-smokers. Everyone should have the right to dine at a restaurant and not be exposed to someone else’s cigarette smoke.
Indiana must continue to do all it can to educate residents on the dangers of smoking. The fact that nearly 22 percent of Hoosier adults smoke is an embarrassment. We urge anybody who smokes to consider taking advantage of the many fine cessation programs available in our communities. Smoking is incredibly addictive and difficult to stop and we have great respect for anybody who summons the wisdom and will power to kick the habit.
This editorial is not meant to disparage the efforts of Culver and Indiana Chamber of Commerce in dealing with an obvious statewide problem. We simply believe that the civil liberties of Indiana residents and employees must be protected and that House Bill 1029, as presented last session, is an overreach and a step away from the virtue of American freedoms.
TOBACCO-FREE ADVOCATES WORRY ABOUT BUDGET CUTS
JANUARY 5, 2014
BY IVY FARGUHESON, THE STAR PRESS
MUNCIE, IND. — The state of Indiana has appealed a recent decision to decrease the amount of money major tobacco companies are ordered to pay as a result of smoke-related illnesses, and local health department officials are equally concerned about future funding.
An arbitration panel ruled in late 2013 the companies should pay Indiana $68.2 million as opposed to the projected $131.2 million amount ordered as a part of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement.
With much of the Delaware County Health Department funding coming from the tobacco settlement agreements, The Starr Press reports (http://tspne.ws/1bGwcL2 ) local tobacco-free advocates fear any cut would put a stop to the momentum the tobacco-free movement has seen in the community in recent years.
“Now is not the time for these cuts, especially when we know the dangers of tobacco use, second-hand smoke and the harm for children with asthma … all while the companies continue to market to young people with millions of dollars,” said Judy Mays, tobacco-free education coordinator for the Health Coalition of Delaware County. “We’ve done some great work here and we need to keeping educating the community on how to quit. We still have work to do.”
The Delaware County Health Department operates with a budget close to $914,000, with most of their funds coming from tobacco settlement dollars, grants and state dollars.
Indiana ranks 49th in the United States (including the District of Columbia) in public health funding from state dollars, forcing health departments to apply for federal and private grants to do their work.
Joshua Williams, the DCHD administrator, said the local office received two large awards — $72,000 from the Local Health Maintenance Fund and $47,000 from the Health Department TrustGrant — from dollars directly funded by the tobacco settlement for the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
The office also received smaller amounts to assist with public health education and screenings throughout the same fiscal year.
Any cut in those funds would force DCHD to do less work — especially in regards to smoking prevention among children and pregnant women — with perhaps fewer people. The department is already working with fewer staff than recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We have plans to work with pregnant women and decreasing their rate of smoking in Delaware County and helping more people with smoking cessation. With a nearly 50 percent cut in state dollars, we’ll expect a cut of that size for us as well. That would force us to stop some of that work,” Williams said.
Attorney General Greg Zoeller is fighting the arbitration ruling, hoping to force the companies — the Philip Morris Tobacco Company, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the Lorillard Tobacco Company and other cigarette manufacturers — to pay closer to the $131.2 million original settlement.
The tobacco-free and health department budgets are set for this fiscal year, but what happens in the future is anyone’s guess.
Tobacco-free advocates encourage supporters to contact their state legislators — they create the state budgets — to discuss their feelings about the potential decrease.
“We need to keep this (tobacco-free) issue out in front of people and we’ll have a hard time doing that with less money,” said Jacey Foley, coordinator of the Tobacco-Free Coalition of Delaware County, a position funded by settlement dollars. “A lot of what we do is education and without these funds, prevention education can’t take place. This affects every aspect of a child and an adult’s life, so we need to keep people thinking about this.”
Tobacco Free Indiana concerned about possible funding cuts
April 3, 2013
Hoosiers are having a tough time trying to kick their smoking habit.?? A Ball State study found more than half of all smokers in the state tried to quit at least one time over the past year.
If everyone were to succeed, the study said, it would lead to billions of dollars in healthcare savings for Indiana.
In 2010, 9,700 Hoosiers died from smoking-related illnesses.
More than 200 Tobacco Free Indiana advocates held a rally Wednesday at the Indiana Statehouse.
The group wants lawmakers to reconsider a budget proposal that slashes funding for prevention programs by almost 40 percent. The money goes to support more than 60 groups in communities across the state.
“If we lose that funding these communities aren’t going to be able to do these programs, we are talking about jobs in communities, and preventing our youth from ever becoming smokers,” said Lindsay Grace.
Tobacco Free Indiana said if the cuts go through, it’ll lose $3 million in funding.
Senate leaders will unveil their state budget proposal Thursday, which could provide answers to the funding issue.
Read More at IN State Page 2