The carrot and the cancer stick | Bleader

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The carrot and the cancer stick

Posted By on 12.13.07 at 08:33 PM

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There was a time when a cloud of smoke meant one of two things: a passing train or a city room. But today the smokers at the great newspapers of America have been ordered to take their filthy habit to the street, and the Tribune Company has something harsher yet in store for them: Beginning January 1, smokers in its employ will have to pay an extra $100 a month for medical coverage. If they've signed up for family coverage, they'll also pay extra if any dependent smokes.

Is this Big Brother, policing the vices not only of the worker but of his or her entire family--and not merely at the office but at home? That's certainly one way of looking at this new policy, but Tribune Co. prefers another: the company spends $100 million a year on medical coverage, and the smoking surcharge recoups a bit of that money while encouraging employees to improve their health.

Last October, during the company's last open enrollment period, its employees were asked if they, their spouses, or their children smoked. Employees who said no are on their honor--Gary Weitman, VP of corporate communications, says no one's being asked to turn in mendacious colleagues. But anyone answering yes will be docked the extra $100 a month unless and until the family smoker(s) enroll in and complete a cessation program, Free & Clear, covered by the company. "We've always promoted cessation programs," says Weitman. "What's new is we're 100 percent funding it."

The drawbacks to this new initiative are easy to spot. "Fucking Nazi Germany -- if someone comes to a party at your house and sees you smoking, does he turn you in?" at least one Tribune staff writer wonders. "What's next? People with more than two drinks a day, or bacon for breakfast?" On the other hand, this staff writer named a senior Tribune editor and a photographer who've decided to quit as a result of the policy. And parents of teenage smokers have been given another card to play:"You want to smoke, you pay the money."

The new Tribune policy is part of a growing movement in the corporate world. What will happen to it when Sam Zell shows up with his Marlboros remains to be seen; maybe he'll inherit Mike Royko's old personal smoking room.

Also, bacon's safe for now. The latest word is it could help protect your heart

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