Several people have pointed me to an A.P. story about Weyco, a Michigan health benefits administrator that forbids its employees to smoke. The company recently fired four employees who refused to take a test to determine if they were smoking on the sly. The policy, which took effect on January 1, is aimed at controlling Weyco's health care costs.
Other companies, including Alaska Airlines and Union Pacific, have similar policies. Although the attempt to control employees' off-the-clock behavior no doubt strikes many people as invasive and excessive, this is not the sort of anti-smoking measure that makes me indignant. Companies have every right to set conditions of employment, which current and potential employees are free to accept or reject. If an employer decides that hiring smokers (or fat people) is too expensive, that's his business. By the same token, companies should be free to hire only smokers, or only fat people.
Likewise, many smokers were dismayed by a Maine ski resort's recent decision to ban smoking on its property, even outdoors. Yet a business owner's right to ban smoking is merely the flip side of a business owner's right to allow smoking (which includes the right to make putting up with tobacco smoke a condition of employment). For both strategic and moral reasons, opponents of government-imposed smoking bans should be consistent about defending property rights and freedom of contract.