|By Lorraine Mirabella, The Baltimore Sun|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
Hospital representatives, who say their primary mission is "living healthier together," say the new rules grew out of two years of researching ways to prevent tobacco-related diseases -- and hearing out those who questioned the policy's fairness and legality. The hospital hopes that health care costs will decrease over the long term, but that was not the primary driver, said
"We're doing this to improve the health status of our community," McGovern said. "It's a serious obligation we have ... and one of the important steps we can take to be a role model."
But others say such policies set a dangerous precedent.
"These things are extremely intrusive," said
"What these folks are saying is they're going to deny a person's livelihood due to the fact that people are consuming a perfectly legal product that does not necessarily adversely affect their health," he said.
About 42.1 million people nationwide -- about 18 percent of the population -- smoke cigarettes, according to a February report from the
Some smokers say employers have no right to regulate employees' health-related choices outside the workplace.
"Everyone has an outlet," she said. "Cigarettes are sold over the counter -- it's not illegal. ... My smoking doesn't interfere with my patients."
"What about obese people, or if you weigh over a certain amount you are going to not be hired?" she said. "Smokers are not bad people."
"I think it's a form of discrimination -- you can't say someone can't come to work because they smoke," he said. "It's not fair. Smoking is legal at the end of the day."
Federal law does not protect tobacco users from discrimination. Smokers are protected from employment-based discrimination in at least two dozen states, but
"We're sure it's enforceable," McGovern said. "We think it's the right thing to do in trying to create a healthy population. That's our role."
Cigarette smoking, which causes more than 480,000 deaths a year nationwide, is the nation's leading preventable cause of death, according to the CDC.
"It contributes to more of the health burden than any other habit," said
Tobacco-free employers include the
No-smoking rules in hiring stirred controversy at first but have led to no legal challenges and relatively few nicotine test failures, two of the employers said.
"The challenge in the beginning was, are we not going to have a lot of people to hire?" said Dr.
Out of 30,000 to 40,000 applicants who have been hired since the policy was put in place in
"It's pretty well known we do not hire smokers," Terpeluk said. "It's difficult for someone to apply here thinking we do not have that policy."
The clinic credits the hiring policy and employee cessation programs with helping to reduce absenteeism and instances of chronic disease and helping to control health care costs, said Dr.
"We pride ourselves on preventative measures," said
But some worry about where such policies might lead.
"What's next?" said Koodray, a cigar smoker and president of the
Employers who adopt no-smoking policies in hiring might be careful not to discriminate but still could open themselves to legal challenges, said
"Is it right for an employer to basically dictate to employees how to live their life and what their habits are?" he said. "A better approach would be more smoking-cessation programs. But the idea of excluding a candidate because he or she happens to be a smoker, I'd be careful about that."
Hospitals and other employers in states without job protections for smokers are within their rights to adopt such policies, employment law experts say.
"Clearly, when an employer starts to make hiring decisions based on something other than merit or job description, they run a risk of running afoul of discrimination law," said
Though hospitals and universities have been among the first to implement smoker hiring bans, such policies are fairly uncommon among private employers, said
Targeting tobacco users made sense, but the prohibition won't be followed by bans based on other health- or behavior-related issues, said Brady-Copertino, of the Anne Arundel hospital.
"We have years and years of research on tobacco as an addiction," she said. "We do not have adequate research on things such as obesity and what needs to be done about it."
It sees its role in promoting a smoke-free environment as extending well beyond its borders. It has doubled its nicotine treatment staff and plans to prepare for its ban by offering free cessation help and classes to area employers and businesses. That effort should promote public health while increasing the hospital's pool of potential smoke-free applicants.
"There's a year for people to get ready and make the decision to stop smoking so they can be employed by us," McGovern said. "Our goal is to get out to as many places as possible."
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