Pro-Business Smoke Out

Much has been written about the regional bidding war for the new Kia auto plant—a war in which Georgia defeated Mississippi, and Alabama was never really a competitor. But as state officials tout the various economic incentives they can offer manufacturers, here's something they need to think about: Would more companies want to come to their states if their work force were non-smoking?

When you consider how smoking affects people's health and productivity, as well as employers' health insurance and absenteeism, you can see why Southern states that really want to compete for more jobs need to reduce tobacco addiction and remove toxic second-hand smoke from the workplace.

Consider my own experience as a wallpaper and painting contractor. A few weeks ago, a businessman called me long distance, wanting me to wallpaper for him again. He stated that my stance on smoking was one of the main reasons for wanting me back in his office complex. What if I employed a smoker to go out and give my estimates for painting or wallpapering, and he or she decided to smoke a cigarette on the way to the customer's home? Let's say the customer, who is severely allergic to smoke, detects the odor of smoke when he meets my estimator. Do you think he is going to hire my company to do the work in his home? You can bet he won't.

I've seen houses in which floor-covering installers left cigarette butts behind the refrigerator. I've seen butts on top of new kitchen cabinets, left there by the cabinet installers.

A couple of years ago, the manager of a store at Panama City, Fla., told me that I was the only painter he knew who didn't smoke. But would you hire a person to work in your home after detecting cigarette smoke on his body? The same approach could apply to automobile manufacturers. If all the competing states are offering incentives that are essentially equal, shouldn't the health of potential employees be a serious consideration for the site-selection committee?

We all know that tobacco use influences personal and public health. It may not have a sudden impact on the smoker in his/her 20s or 30s, but eventually, smoking will get you. (One of my saddest experiences as a baseball dad and coach was witnessing a 14-year-old all-star in the Birmingham area having to play without his dad present. His father had died a few years earlier from a tobacco-related illness.)

It is well-documented that tobacco addicts cost companies in absenteeism, productivity, insurance, ventilation and maintenance costs. States should consider that it is also well-documented that as the cost of tobacco products rises (most often in the form of higher taxes on them), fewer people start smoking and more smokers quit.

Southern states that really want to compete for more jobs need to start reducing tobacco addiction, thereby removing toxic second-hand smoke in the workplace. Think of the incentive for a company that employs a couple of thousand people. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that "dependability" and "assembly line" are inseparable. The old preacher's sermon titled "Dependability is the Greatest Ability" still holds true.

My suggestions for states include:

• The governor could invite all ministers, including music and youth ministers, to an annual conference that would create a spirit of unity to defeat tobacco addiction. (It's probably no accident that Utah, where the majority of residents are Mormon, continues to rank at the top of states for fewest tobacco addicts and tobacco-related deaths.)

• Utilize all state property for promoting health and exposing the dangers of tobacco. States could place tobacco-awareness signs on state vehicles, including school buses.

• They also could utilize the labor, talent and creative minds of our state prisoners in helping to promote health.

• Create a tobacco-death memorial with the funding coming from automobile car tags with a theme of "Tobacco Victim." I would be the first to purchase a car tag in memory of my dad's tobacco-related death.

• Create scholarships for students who demonstrate a genuine passion for promoting good health and preventing tobacco use.

• Encourage families to identify tobacco-related deaths in the obituaries. We should not be ashamed to discourage smoking.

• The Mississippi League of Municipalities is a wonderful organization that could bring this awareness to all the elected city officials. It could coordinate a task force that would aggressively work with all city and county leaders on improving their citizens' health.

• We should refuse to allow any tobacco promotion on state property, which would eliminate tobacco lobbyists and certain headhunters who visit our universities.

• Are jobs that pay an average of $50,000 per year worth some major public and personal health promotion and discipline? The personal health of our state could be the No. 1 incentive to lay on the selection table for potential investors.

And it will be, if forward-thinking political leaders are as concerned about balanced and healthy lifestyles as they are about balanced budgets.

Mike Sawyer is the executive director of I Will Never Use Tobacco Inc. in Birmingham. This column first appeared in the Mobile Register.

Previous Comments


I don't see how erradicating cigarettes/smoking will be a boon to business. There's no convincing information to validate this theory included in this piece. Am I missing something? It's like saying if you erradicate all processed foods, sodas, and/or cut down trees, more businesses will come to the South. Actually, I think that would change Southern culture far more drastically and may draw more businesses (but think of all the others we'd lose). Makes no sense. As for the comments on work and smoking, yes, there is evidence smokers may miss work more... Just as parents will, too. But, there are several other important factors to consider about the workplace: cleanliness of the environment, parent population (yes, you heard me! I swear more moms come in ill with kindergarten colds than any smoker I know.), stress levels (especially in call centers or cube farms), recycled air (a huge factor in airborne illness and weakened systems), ergonomics (if the body is not properly positioned and allowed relaxation every hour, work be a brutal environment on the body), and so many other factors. The author targets smoking without really going after all the evils in the workplace. The religious comment makes me ill. Mormons also don't drink dark sodas, teas, coffee and more. They have a very strict diet when it comes to things they can ingest. And, for the record, I know two Mormons that smoke. I'm not saying smoking is great or that it doesn't cause illness and death. Hell, what doesn't these days? Even oxygen breaks the body down with time. I'm simply saying this has to be one of the WORST arguments against smoking I've ever read! *One bullet-point in particular comes across as fascist if you ask me... I'll let you guess which one. Clue: obituary.


FYI, Starkville has become the first Mississippi town to start a smoking ban.



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