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Is it OK to discriminate against people because they are smokers? You may argue it’s a simple matter of yes if smokers are imposing costs on you. But what about when they are not imposing costs on you? On the one hand, smokers tend to have characteristics that are affiliated with worse life outcomes than non-smokers. I don’t have the data in front of me, but smokers are lower-income on average than non-smokers. Smokers are lower educated than non-smokers. And these two factors alone correlate with higher crime, worse health outcomes, and more – wholly aside from the impact smoking has directly on those outcomes.

On the other hand, we know more about who is more or less likely to smoke. Native and African American adults smoke in somewhat larger percentages than whites. However, Hispanic and Asian-American adults smoke in smaller percentages. Would having a particular attitude toward smokers imply a particular, opaque, attitude toward a particular racial class? I don’t think so, but I can think of examples in other areas where if we replace “smoking” with some other behavior people would immediately jump to that conclusion.

Finally, as a general point, is it ok to use “smoking” as a signal for whom you might or might not want to affiliate with? After all, if smokers have high discount rates, and smokers seem to have a higher likelihood of making bad decisions than non-smokers, wouldn’t you want to have less contact with them? What are the broader implications of accepting this idea?

3 Responses to “Weekend Thought: Diversity and Discrimination Edition”

  1. Alex says:

    Not an answer to your first question, but discriminating against smokers is unlike discriminating against, say, age or gender, because the latter are inherent characteristics. I assume you’re pointing out a consistency issue with someone who claims they respect diversity but then criticize and discriminate against smokers (and maybe an additional inconsistency with sympathizing with the poor, uneducated, sick, etc.?)…But in what situation is it okay to discriminate against anyone if they’re not imposing costs on you? (I wouldn’t be surprised if someone could think of one, but I just can’t now).

    Not sure if this is the other you’re referring to, but another small inconsistency might be between one respecting diversity even if an aspect of the inherent characteristic is something one would criticize (“so it’s OK to smoke as long as you’re Native American?”).

    • Wintercow20 says:

      Just a simpler point. Nominally smoking is a marker, an easily visible one, for other “bad” things and we seem to have no problem with this visible marker being used. Is it ok because smoking is chosen? I’m not sure that’s enough of an answer. There would seem to be many such msrkers like this that we would disapprove of using – like choice of major for example.

  2. Harry says:

    Is not “diversity” a euphemism for discrimination?

    James Taranto has a good article on this subject in The Best of the Web today.

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