Smokers don’t often get favorable treatment these days.
Fewer people smoke and those who do are often scorned, or even held in contempt.
Things are apparently different when it comes to the COVID vaccine. Gov. Phil Murphy raised some eyebrows on Wednesday when the state expanded those eligible to be vaccinated to include those 65 and older and younger people suffering from a variety of ailments. Some were obvious – cancer, kidney disease and diabetes.
But the eligibility list also includes smokers, which Murphy said is in line with CDC guidelines.
Still, a logical person may ask, why are smokers, of which there are an estimated 2 million in the state, getting preferential treatment?
One of those asking is Brian Bergen, a Republican assemblyman from Denville in Morris County.
He said he is “appalled” that the Murphy administration “would prioritize people who make the life choice to smoke cigarettes.”
The governor was paying attention to this and other chatter about the subject. Reacting at today’s briefing, the governor said critics were mixing apples and oranges and looking for a “cheap headline.”
The state has been discouraging smoking for years, but Murphy says the motivation here is health, not a dangerous habit.
“Smoking puts someone at a high risk,” he said, noting that COVID is a respiratory disease.
Murphy said preventing people from getting sick is the humane thing to do, but it is also important not to overtax hospitals.
He said the state can’t just offer the vaccine to those who are “politically favorable.”
Bergen wondered about how smokers’ eligibility will work.
For example, how about a 21-year-old who has been smoking for two months? Is he, or she, eligible? Or, how about someone who smokes a celebratory cigar a few times a year?
Bergen didn’t mention another possibility. What’s to stop someone from lying about a smoking habit?
Murphy conceded the obvious.
“People can lie, unfortunately, they can,” he said.
At the same time, the governor said he doesn’t want vaccine distribution to be overly-bureaucratic.
So it’s more or less the honor system.