Workplace smoking policies move backward

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Let’s suppose that Indiana was a backward place. Not backward as in backwater. Backward as in the Oscar-nominated f lm
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." In other words, a place where things happen in reverse
order.

Now unto the Statehouse
in this inverse Hoosierland comes a cadre of business owners. Accompanied by their lobbyists, they arrive
at the Capitol one cold winter afternoon for a public hearing before a House of Representatives committee.

The bill in question seems like a long shot.
It would abdicate government’s responsibility for protecting citizens’ health and safety, and place it
in the hands of individual business owners.

It would abdicate government’s responsibility for protecting the environment, and leave that—totally unregulated—to
individual business owners, too.

It would add billions to the cost of health care for government and private payors.

It would hook millions of people—including
children—on a highly addictive drug.

It would make tens of thousands of people sick every year.

And it would, in the words of Ebenezer Scrooge "reduce the surplus population" by killing
10,000 or so Hoosiers annually.

Yet, the bill has found a sponsor, been assigned to a committee and gotten a hearing.

Why? Because in exchange for passage, the cadre
of business owners has agreed to share the wealth from their addictive substance, via various forms of
taxation, with the cash-starved state.

"Mr. Chairman," says the first government witness, "on behalf of our trade association, our member corporations,
the Hoosiers we employ and the customers we serve, I thank you for this opportunity to speak here today.

"Now, Mr. Chairman, these are tough times.
Tough times! Some of the toughest times we’ve seen since the Great Depression. And you know that state
government is hurting, just as our businesses are hurting.

"But I’m pleased to let you know, honorable representatives, that we’ve come up with a solution
that will ensure a long-term revenue stream not only for our businesses, not only for state government,
but also for physicians, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and, yes, funeral homes, crematoriums, florists
and cemeteries—for decades to come. This is economic development with a capital E."

"Sounds too good to be true," says
the chairman. "What’s the catch?"

"There is none," says the witness. "That’s the beauty of our model. Let me explain.

"You see, the bill before you is based on the
most fundamental of all business principles—that the very best way to make money is to make something
for a dime, sell it for a dollar and make it habit-forming."

"That is simple," says Rep. Smith.

"Yes it is," says the witness. "And profitable!

"So here’s our plan: With your blessing—as granted in this legislation—we’re
going to fill our establishments with an addictive haze. It will get into people’s lungs, into their
bloodstreams, into their brains. And when they’ve inhaled a few whiffs, they’ll want more. They’ll crave
it. They won’t want to quit. They won’t be able to quit! Best of all, they’ll always associate their
hazy pleasure with our products and services."

"Wow! Is this stuff safe?" asks Rep. Jones.

"That’s the coup de grace," says the witness. "It’s not safe at all. We’ve pumped
this stuff full of 4,000 chemicals, including 60-some carcinogens. It’s going to cause asthma, heart
disease, cancer, emphysema, you name it. That’s going to happen not only to immediate users, but to everyone
around them, including our entire work force.

We’ll have high turnover, resulting in more
jobs for more people. The health care system will thrive. And you can tax the entire process!"

"Sounds
like a win-win," says Rep. Doe.

"But tell me," says Rep. O’Toole. "What
if the health nuts protest? I hate picket signs outside my office.

"An excellent question—very
astute," says the witness. "But we’ve thought through the perfect talking points for your response."

"I’m all ears," says Rep. O’Toole.

"First of all, you tell them this is
a question of individual rights. As a country founded on liberty, Americans love that argument. "Second,
play the Big Brother card. Tell them individual business owners—not big government—should
decide what kind of Kool-Aid they serve."

"Oh, that’s good," says Rep. Smith.

"And
finally, ma’am, if the heat gets really intense, tell them it’s not the state’s job. It’s up to individual
communities. Then, the health Nazis will have to fight us off town by town, county by county—it’ll
take years."

"Brilliant!" says the chairman, "And in the meantime, we’ll
make an absolute killing!"

"Yes, sir, we absolutely will."

I’m sure glad we don’t live
in a backward state.
___

Hetrick is chairman and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations
and marketing communications firm. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com.

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