The editorial states that, on Jan. 1, the Baylor Health Care System in Texas stopped hiring individuals who use nicotine products:
Baylor says that as a health care organization, it wants to practice what it preaches: discouraging one of the nation’s deadliest health habits. But such practices are not confined to the health care industry, and they raise a broader issue: If employers routinely reject people who engage in risky, but legal, behavior on their own time, what about such things as overeating or drinking too much alcohol? If smoker bans reduce health care expenses, cost-conscious employers might be tempted to stake out new and even more intrusive territory under the “wellness program” banner. A bit further down the road lies hiring based on genetics. In that world, inheriting a gene that shows a predisposition to a costly disease could cost you a job.
The counterpoint is offered by Dr. Paul Terpeluk, the Cleveland Clinic’s medical director of employee health services, which stopped hiring smokers in 2007.
In it, he defends the practice as something that’s completely in-line with the organization’s overall philosophy:
As a health care institution, whose inherent mission is healing the sick and cultivating a healthier community, does it make sense to support a habit that leads to disease, disability and death?
At Cleveland Clinic, we don’t believe so.
That’s why we adopted a smoke-free campus in 2005 and why, in 2007, we went further, deciding to no longer hire smokers. Job candidates are told that the offer is subject to a nicotine-free urine test. If a candidate tests positive for nicotine, the offer is rescinded, and he or she is offered a free tobacco- cessation program and may reapply in 90 days.
If that sounds harsh to some, consider that cigarette smoke contains hundreds of chemicals and compounds that are toxic and at least 69 that cause cancer. These chemicals travel throughout the body, wreaking havoc in the form of inflammation, cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung disease and a weakened immune system.
To ignore this would be to undermine our commitment to health and wellness, which includes providing a healthy environment for our employees, visitors and patients. Plus, the policy has not proved to be an overwhelming obstacle for job applicants. Since it was instituted, less than 2% of job offers — about 300 out of 20,000 — have been rescinded due to positive nicotine tests.
While its overall intentions seem noble, the “smokers need not apply” policy seems to lay awfully close to the precipice of a very slippery slope, and it will be very interesting to see how popular hiring based — at least partly — on personal habits may become.
Indeed, the USA Today editorial ends with an American Lung Association-sourced list of the 21 states that currently allow employers to refuse to hire smokers. Is your state on that list?