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Why Many Tobacco-Friendly Business Groups Are Now Switching Sides

The local chamber of commerce is usually a reliable ally in battles against regulation. But when it comes to smoking rules, many business groups have decided they would rather switch than fight, reports Reuters. Even in states where tobacco has played an important role in the economy—including North Carolina, Kentucky and Missouri—chambers have endorsed cigarette tax hikes, raising the smoking age and other efforts to curb tobacco habits. The shift has accelerated since 2016, driven by a growing awareness that smoking drives up healthcare costs for employers, business groups said. Smoking restrictions often are part of broader wellness initiatives, such as promoting exercise and nutrition, aimed at improving health—and business. “Smoking isn’t just killing us, it’s bankrupting us,” said Ashli Watts, a spokeswoman with the Chamber of Commerce for Kentucky, where one in four adults uses tobacco, the lung cancer rate is the nation’s highest and related healthcare and lost productivity costs nearly $5 billion a year. “Companies do look at the health of a workforce,” Watts said. An unhealthy workforce “is a deterrent.”