Tenn. healthcare system won't hire smokers

Smokers need not apply at Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Memorial Health Care System. In a controversial move that some call bold and others label as discriminatory, the Southeast's' leading medical system won't hire anyone who uses tobacco or nicotine products.

Beginning Feb. 1, anyone offered a job will be screened for tobacco and nicotine use, on top of tests already conducted for illegal drugs and alcohol, the organization recently announced. If a potential employee tests positive for tobacco or nicotine, his or her job offer will be withdrawn and they won't be able to reapply for six months. The new rule doesn't affect those who already work at Memorial and who use tobacco products. 

Brad Pope, Memorial's vice president for human resources, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that the decision was made "for the health of our community," and said it was a move that should have been expected. 

But Dr. Michael Siegel, a tobacco-control researcher who teaches at the Boston University School of Public Health, compares the move to an employer not hiring based on nutrition and/or exercise habits. "What it's basically saying is the private behavior of people in their own homes is somehow relevant to their qualifications to work in a workplace," Siegel said. 

But some smokers though, including Memorial ICU nurse Mike Sullivan, say the new rule is a good idea. Sullivan hopes to work part-time for the hospital after he retires. "It would be a good incentive to quit," Sullivan said.

On average, smokers cost employers between $2,500 and $4,000 annually for healthcare costs in comparison to nonsmokers, a Tennessee health department official told the Times Free Press.

To learn more about the smoking ban:
- read this Chattanooga Times Free Press article
- read the announcement on Memorial's website