February 16, 2011
Smokers may find themselves excluded from yet another space--the workplace. According to The New York Times more and more companies are shifting towards "tobacco-free hiring" policies and turning away job applicants who cannot kick their nicotine habit.
The shift in policies is a reaction to unsuccessful attempts to prohibit smoking, such as banning smoking on company grounds or increasing healthcare premiums for smokers. The policy has gained the most momentum at hospitals and medical businesses, where organizations argue that the smoker ban fulfills the mission of promoting well-being. It also helps hospitals reduce healthcare costs. According to federal estimates, an employee who smokes can cost companies an average of $3,391 more a year in healthcare and lost productivity.
The New York Times pointed out that many hospitals have already stopped hiring smokers in recent years and more are expected to enforce similar standards.
"We've had a number of inquiries over the last 6 to 12 months about how to do this," said Paul Terpeluk, a director at Cleveland Clinic, which banned the hiring of smokers in 2007. "The trend is getting pretty steep, and I'd guess that in the next few years you'd see a lot of major hospitals go this way."
Under the new rule, cigarettes will be treated like an illegal narcotic. Some hospitals and companies maintain strict regulations, while others are a bit more lenient. For instance, according to The News Tribune, beginning March 1 the Franciscan Health System, which includes five full-service hospitals in Washington, will deny employment to any applicant who uses tobacco in any form. Applicants will be required to take a urine test, which can detect tobacco use from cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, snus, snuff, nicotine patches and even heavy second-hand smoke. Regardless of where the tobacco comes from, if it is detected, the individual will not be hired, but can reapply in six months.
"Our mission calls us to create healthier communities," said Franciscan Chief Operating Officer Dr. Cliff Robertson. "We cannot in good conscience simultaneously be a champion for healthy communities and continue to hire people who smoke and use tobacco products."
According to The New York Times, some employers will go as far as terminating employees who are caught smoking.
KIMT reported that Mercy Medical Center North Iowa, on the other hand, will be more hands-off.
"From a medical plan's standpoint we do not differentiate between smokers and nonsmokers. It's not a requirement of the job, so we would just want them to be aware," said Jackie Luecht, director of Human Resources. Unlike Franciscan, Mercy Medical will prohibit employees from smoking during their shifts. Should their clothes smell like smoke during the work day, they will be asked to change.
The New York Times pointed out that such policies have caused sharp debate and some worry that it may lead employers to prohibit other negative, but personal, behaviors such as drinking alcohol, eating fast food or participating in risky hobbies like motorcycle riding.
Some employees reported that the policy was the push they needed to finally kick the habit. Yet, others see it as discrimination.
"Obviously we know the effects of smoking, we see it every day in the hospital," said Mandy Carroll, a nursing student at the University of Kansas School of Nursing. "It's a stupid choice, but it's a personal choice."
Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin
"Franciscan: Health system will no longer hire tobacco users," thenewstribune.com, February 12, 2011, John Gillie
"Hospitals Shift Smoking Bans to Smoker Ban," NYTimes.com, February 10, 2011, A.G. Sulzberger
"Smoking and Your Job," KIMT.com, February 14, 2011, Beth Tuttle