Trend of hospitals not hiring smokers picks up steam

Hospitals and other healthcare organizations increasingly are turning away job applicants who smoke, the New York Times reports.

New rules treat cigarettes like illegal narcotics. Applications refer to tobacco-free hiring, and job applicants must take drug tests for nicotine. New employees caught smoking could be fired.

The strict policies are part of a push to increase worker productivity, cut healthcare costs and encourage personal well-being. Employers justify smoker bans, citing the estimated extra $3,391 smokers cost them in healthcare and lost productivity each year.

"We felt it was unfair for employees who maintained healthy lifestyles to have to subsidize those who do not," Steven Bjelich, CEO of St. Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau, Mo., said. His hospital stopped hiring smokers in January.

Hospitals in Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas all stopped hiring smokers in last year. Cleveland Clinic stopped hiring smokers in 2007.

The shift to smoker-free healthcare workplaces has prompted debate about how far workplaces can go in discriminating against bad habits or unhealthy lifestyles.

"Where do you draw the line?" asks Dr. Elizabeth M. Whelan, president of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH). "Do you set policies against employees who ride motorcycles? Or those who are obese, or drink more than some arbitrary amount?"

To learn more:
- read the New York Times article
- read the American Council on Science and Health article

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