Smoking, Overeating, and Official Disapproval

Why should “society” care if people use tobacco? There are many reasons. It annoys nearby people — which is also true of certain colognes, but no one has found a way to outlaw those yet. On the “serious as a heart attack” side, tobacco use has been linked to cancer of at least a dozen crucial body parts.

Obesity shares the notoriety of being associated with a plethora of diseases, or as the pros call them, morbidities. A morbidity is as bad as it sounds, a condition that either kills you or makes you wish you were dead.

Smoking and obesity are responsible for tragedy on the both the micro and macro scale. They are not alike in every way, but in enough ways that anyone interested in controlling obesity will look to the anti-smoking movement for advice — although maybe not vice versa.

Lots of people either lived through the days of ubiquitous smoking, or have seen them depicted in Mad Men or some other TV show. In elementary school, teachers smoked in the teachers’ lounge. Smoking in movie theaters, college classrooms, and hospitals was taken for granted. Every restaurant table was equipped with an ashtray, and every restaurant gave away matchbooks that advertised the business, because matches were something that everybody needed.

When people visited the homes of relatives and friends, permission to smoke was expected, and only a very ungracious hostess would fail to provide at least one ashtray. It wasn’t a big deal. Smoking was widely perceived as stylish, cool, and even sexy — but that is well-documented elsewhere.

Now, practitioners of the vice, exiled from the comfort and companionship found within walls, can be seen standing huddled in the rain, trying to keep their cigarettes lit. What happened? Taxes happened, along with consequent disgruntlement in some places when the authorities failed to use the revenues as promised. Laws have been made to free the air of smoke, not only indoors, but within X number of feet from entrances and windows.

In the workplace, smokers pay more for health insurance, and apparently, some employers can even refuse to hire them. The situation is the same for overweight and obese employees. In either case, the company may or may not offer various health-enhancing measures to help out.

The laws vary from state to state, so an employer needs to be cognizant of the local situation. In 29 states, just smoking alone is not a good enough reason to refuse to hire a person. But even so, there are all kinds of side rules and exceptions depending on the total number of employees, or the probable safety risk posed by smoking in that particular setting, or what the union negotiates. It gets complicated, because if smoking is an addiction, then it’s a disability, and Americans with disabilities should not be discriminated against.

Media campaigns about the dangers of smoking have been produced for various audiences, most importantly kids. As for commercial media, we used to see doctors and nurses (or “doctors” and “nurses”) making their pitch for tobacco. Print media ads featured famous actors. Here is some history:

In 1971, the U.S. banned broadcast advertising of tobacco products. Smoking within TV dramas immediately dropped by 70 percent. The tobacco companies then returned to systematic product placement campaigns in Hollywood, affecting hundreds of mainstream movies.

The 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between state attorneys general and domestic tobacco companies prohibited tobacco product placement in entertainment accessible to kids. Despite this legally-binding agreement, however, on-screen smoking climbed…

Obviously, it would be impossible for authority to ban eating in movies or on television, whether kids are likely to be watching or not. Could the law forbid depiction of certain kinds of products, like doughnuts or sugar-sweetened beverages? Not without monumental legal battles.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Can Employers Refuse to Hire Smokers?,” HRDefenseBlog, 09/04/18
Source: “Tobacco’s history in Hollywood,”
Photo credit: Anton Raath 
(Fugue) on Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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