Smokers need not apply to this hospital

If you smoke, don't bother to apply for any jobs at Saint Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau, Mo., the Associated Press reports. As of Jan. 1, 2011, you're not welcome there. In fact, applicants will undergo nicotine tests as part of their employment application.

The policy change builds on the hospital's optional employee wellness program, which rewards employees for making healthy lifestyle changes and choices, according to the Southeast Missourian. ProMedica Health System, a Toledo, Ohio-based nonprofit that employs more than 14,000 people at over 300 facilities in Ohio and Michigan, yesterday announced a similar tobacco-free hiring ban.

These moves come just weeks after the Massachusetts Hospital Association announced that it would not hire smokers.

It's likely cost control and employee health is at the heart of the decisions, because employees who smoke cost their companies $12,000 a year, according to Action on Smoking and Health, a non-profit anti-smoking ad nonsmokers' rights group.

Here's what applicants see on St. Francis' vacancy page after logging in:

"Because it is important for healthcare providers to promote a healthy environment and lifestyle, effective January 1, 2011, Saint Francis Medical Center has a nicotine-free hiring policy. Applicants will be tested for nicotine as part of a pre-employment screening.

"I understand that my application will not be considered if I use tobacco products."

Current employees are grandfathered in. Tobacco cessation programs and other incentives to stop smoking will still be offered to them.

Although Missouri labor law says that employers cannot refuse to hire an employee for tobacco use after work hours off company property, not-for-profit hospitals and church-related organizations are exempt.

One commenter on the Southeast Missourian website noted that the main entrance of the hospital is like a "freak show," with people seated holding a smoke in one hand and an an oxygen tank in the other. Others seemed convinced that big pharma was financing the ban to drive the need for their tobacco cessation products.

To learn more:
- read the ProMedica press release
- read the Southeast Missourian article
- here's the Associated Press story

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