When smokers should – and shouldn't – feel persecuted.

Smokers: The insurance companies are not out to get you.

I mean, really. The higher premiums (a local hospital network is charging an additional annual $520 heathcare premium if anyone in the house smokes) are reasonable. Nevermind that the employers – this one in particular – justified it by saying “We’re legally allowed to raise it much higher than that.” You already know how I feel about that.

But it takes a special kind of denial of the real world to claim smoking doesn’t lead to higher healthcare costs. So that makes sense.

The Cleveland Clinic, however, long ago crossed the line.

In a classic example of the slippery slope, drug tests at the Cleveland Clinic now also test for nicotine. Yes, that means that if you’re quitting with the patch or nicotine gum, they still won’t hire you.

Mind you, I completely understand banning smoking during work hours, or at the workplace. I can even understand banning smoking during the lunch break. Firing or hiring you based on what you do outside of work hours… that’s problematic.

And that’s why it’s an example of the slippery slope. Drug testing (aside from false positives) can pick up traces of drugs long after they’ve ceased to have an effect. Marijuana is a classic example, with people still testing positive nearly a month after usage. I don’t see the difference between smoking a joint and having a couple of beers on the weekend; by the time you’re back to work, it won’t have an effect on your work performance.

Tobacco has an even less direct relationship to work performance. What’s more frightening is that the possibility that the justification is through the “health risk” angle. The CEO of the Cleveland Clinic – a Dr. Delos Cosgrove – said earlier this year that he also wouldn’t hire overweight people if it wasn’t illegal under federal law.

And the slope only gets steeper from there. It’s not that difficult to justify most behaviors as risky in the long run. Ride a motorcycle? What if you get a speeding ticket? I’m sure we can find a correlation between having kids and high blood pressure – or between NOT having kids and higher mortality rates.

There’s some sensibility in having smokers – or for that matter, overweight people – pay higher premiums. I personally pay higher health and life insurance premiums due to those factors.

Not hiring someone because of behaviors outside of the workplace? That starts down a path we really, really do not want to go down.

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