(02/10/2005)
By Bob Weaver

While the smoking wars are hot in West Virginia, lifestyle rules, laws and lawsuits are popping up around the USA.

While health problems are of major concern, the issue of corporate and government control is still in the middle of the controversy.

A Michigan company has allegedly fired workers for being smokers, smoking on their own time, while three teenagers in New York City have filed a class-action lawsuit against McDonald's Corporation.

The suit says that the fast food chain's food caused them to gain as much as 200 pounds and develop serious health problems, including heart disease and diabetes.

The fat burger suit is being heard by the New York Supreme Court, following another lawsuit by a New York City man, who has been eating fast food since the 1950s.

He has sued the country's four leading fast-food chains for their dripping fat burgers and fries.

But in Michigan, a lawmaker said that he planned to introduce a bill to bar companies from firing employees for smoking on their own time.

Michigan's Weyco Inc. began randomly testing their 200 workers for nicotine use, saying they would fire those who tested positive and refused to quit smoking.

Four Weyco employees have said they were let go.

A Michigan lawmaker said "These are things happening off duty ... If it's legal to fire someone for smoking at home, what's next?

Weyco said "When you do something that is extremely harmful to both yourself and others, it's not a privacy issue -- it's a matter of exercising some personal responsibility for your behavior." They said such bad habits increase health problems and insurance costs and reduce productivity.

Their statement continued: "Michigan businesses, taxpayers and co-workers of smokers have the right to protect themselves from the horrendous damage caused by the self-destructive behavior of a small percentage of employees."

Weyco officials said the policy was put into place to encourage healthy behavior among workers, as well as to underscore its health-conscious corporate culture.

Inside the company's headquarters is handwritten note from Thomas Edison to Henry Ford, dated April 1914. It reads: "I employ no person who smokes."

Michigan's Kalamazoo Valley Community College instituted a policy last month, saying it wouldn't hire smokers for full-time positions.


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