Monday, May 16, 2005

Smoke This, Part II

     Starting July 1, two positive, unrelated, yet related things are going to happen in Georgia. First, smoking will be banned from any public place that admits children under the age of 18. Second, state employees who smoke will begin paying an additional $40 a month in health insurance premiums. These are unrelated items in one sense - either one would have happened if the other had not. Obviously they're related in another sense - a lowered toleration of smoking in the United States. Smoking is an issue that has crossed party lines. Libertarianism isn't particularly appealing to either major party, really. Both believe that society must dictate some form of life - they just disagree on the specifics.
     Georgia's smoking ban is incredibly positive, IMNSHO, and a good compromise for restauranteurs and patrons alike. Unlike New York's rules against any smoking in public buildings, Georgia's has a number of exceptions, including designated hotel rooms, bars and restaurants that bar children, and specially designated rooms in any restaurant or workplace that has its own ventilation system. It strikes a fine balance between individual rights and, well, individual rights.
     The second thing, additional premiums for smokers, has been a long time coming. Keep in mind this only applies to one insurance plan - the one for state employees. Private health insurance companies are already doing the same thing, quietly. It's a positive step for a number of reasons. First, it helps shift some of the additional costs smokers impose on the system back onto the smokers. Second, it perhaps offers another financial incentive to quit. Third, unlike other risk factors like genetics or weight, smoking is purely voluntary. (Weight isn't voluntary - it can be a symptom of excessive overeating, which itself is voluntary. Other causes of weight gain are involuntary. Smoking is 100% voluntary.) For some reason, this small thing is causing an uproar. Smokers spent about $710 a year on tobacco in 2001. $40 a month ($480/year) is a significant cost increase for them, but compared to the $15,000 extra they cost us in health care costs and the 4 extra sick days on average they take (for a smoker making $50,000 a year, 4 workdays is worth $800), it seems like a fair start.


Chris said...

I wonder how many smoking "non-smokers" there will be, when the issue of health insurance benefits comes into play? In other words, how would one enforce the second rule? Being a smoker is different from the act of smoking. And how could one convince the insurance company that they had actually quit smoking? Would they have to provide proof? Preposterous! I'm a non-smoker, and I really don't like smoky places (and avoid them like the plague), but I think a better "taxation" on smoking and it's health cost effect is better realized by taking the heck out of the product -- cigarettes!

Good post. We just passed a smoking ban in Austin Texas last week.

Mike said...

I agree with Chris in I don't know how they are going to enforce this. But I think this is going to get challenged in court. Some guy who smokes half a pack a day yet runs and works out 5 times a week and eats healthy foods is going to point to the fat slob in accounting who eats cheesesteaks and drinks a sixpack every night and say "Why do I pay more than that guy?" There will be a court case and it will be interesting to see what happens.

Ben said...

Smoking is only voluntary the first time. After that, it's jsut as hard to quit as it is for some fat guy to get off his ass and exercise. Old people could kill themselves at 70, but they voluntarily stay alive and drain our medicare and retirement plans and social security and such. I say get rid of 'em.

Mike said...

That's why I always vote against old people. Tune in to my blog tomorrow for a rant on how the Baby Boomers are going to break this nation. (Sorry for the shameless plug)

ORF said...

Hmm, I never considered how difficult it will be for insurance companies to know for certain whether or not someone is on or off the proverbial smoking wagon. Excellent point, gentlemen.

Mike, don't worry, we're all shameless pluggers at the end of the day.

Yesterday in Suffolk County, NY (it's on Strong Island) the local legislator passed a bill to raise the legal purchasing age for tobacco products from 18 to 19. Sorry, Im being lazy about the link, but I thought it would fit nicely with this post.