At the peak of the Penn State employee wellness controversy, an epic meeting of the faculty senate was held. At last, it was faculty members’ chance to confront and question their oppressors face-to-face. The voice that grabbed the headlines was Prof. Maria Truglio, pressing the university about its health risk appraisal’s intrusive questions regarding women’s pregnancy plans. But perhaps of equal importance were remarks made by Prof. Marc McDill. Like others, McDill objected to the entire wellness program and its ill-conceived requirements. But he stood out from his fellow speakers by also offering an impassioned plea to protect smokers from the university’s new “tobacco surcharge” — $75 per person per month for employees and their spouses who use tobacco.
According to the meeting minutes, Professor McDill said:
The smoking penalty, in particular, is astoundingly ill-conceived. Why single out smoking among all the other voluntary risky behaviors that people engage in? I suspect that the answer to this last question is that smokers are an easy target because they are the new modern pariahs. It is too easy for those of us who do not smoke, and I do not smoke, to let this one pass because we think the smokers deserve it.
Alas, McDill’s comments about smokers fell on deaf ears, as the university ultimately suspended its wellness requirements but left intact new surcharges, including the tobacco surcharge. In fact, when the faculty senate finally passed a resolution, it asked the university to forego a spousal surcharge, but hung the smokers out to dry.
Yet, we can’t help but wonder whether McDill’s comments — naive as they were in some respects, profound in others — may portend a gathering storm. If wellness critics and employee “resisters” (such as the Penn State faculty) gain momentum, might they ally themselves with smokers’ rights activists? Both groups perceive a common enemy: Employer overreach.
Between this potential new united front, and encroaching uncertainties regarding how to address electronic cigarettes, those of us who’ve achieved significant inroads helping employees overcome nicotine dependence may find we have our backs against the wall.
(By the way, in determining who is required to pay the tobacco surcharge, Penn State considers e-cigarette users to be tobacco users. Should e-cig users spend more for health insurance?)
Happy Great American Smokeout Day.
Related articles and blogs from the web
- Public health: proper debate is needed over the safety of e-cigarettes (theguardian.com)
- How e-cigarettes have become a ‘very wild west’ industry in Canada (business.financialpost.com)
- How your company is watching your waistline (news.yahoo.com)