Smokers need not apply

2013

If you're a smoker and want a job with Florida healthcare provider, Orlando Health, you're going to be out of luck. Because as of April 2013, the company has said that new hires at seven of its hospitals

must not use tobacco in any form – even in the privacy of their own homes.

The new rule is an expansion of Orlando Health's current drug and alcohol use policy and will apply to all forms of tobacco use. The company says that it will require all individuals who receive a job offer to be screened for cotinine, a by-product of nicotine, as part of the regular drug screening process. The level of cotinine present in the body can determine whether an individual is a primary tobacco user or is being exposed to tobacco through other means, such as second-hand smoke.

Offers of employment will be rescinded for individuals who test positive for "primary user" levels of cotinine. Applicants who fail the cotinine test may re-apply after 180 days.

"Our new tobacco-free hiring rule reinforces our culture of prevention and wellness for team members, patients, and the central Florida community," said Christy Pearson, COO Human Resources, Orlando Health.

"It is our way of leading by example and serving as a community role model for good health behaviors."

Since tobacco remains a perfectly legal substance for adults to purchase and use, such bans are – to say the least – controversial when they mean refusing to hire people who do legal things in their own time. And it is particularly pertinent in a country where so many adults are overweight and employment discrimination against obese candidates is a legal grey area.

In fact, in 29 other American states, such a blanket ban against smokers would be illegal, but Florida is among the 21 states which do not have laws protecting smokers' rights. So too is Pennsylvania, where the University of Pennsylvania Health System announced that as of July 1, it will also stop hiring people who use nicotine, arguing that the policy will save health care costs.

"We think it's our responsibility, as healthcare providers, to help improve local population health by promoting the cessation of all tobacco products," added Christy Pearson.

"Our goal with both these efforts is not to exclude anyone who is qualified and interested in pursuing a career with Orlando Health. It is to promote and encourage the cessation of all tobacco use."

But as Dr Michael Siegel, a professor of public health at the Boston University School of Public Health and a specialist in tobacco control, wrote a recent blog post, such arguments are the thin end of a very dangerous wedge.

"Employees should be hired based on their bona fide qualifications for a job, not based on a group to which they happen to belong when that group membership does not relate to a specific job qualification," he said. "Once employment discrimination is justified on the grounds of saving money, then the same reasoning would justify discriminating against obese people, persons who consume alcohol, individuals who do not wear seat belts, persons who talk on their cell phones while driving, motorcyclists, and virtually any other group that an employer does not want to hire."

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Older Comments

I have to agree with Dr. Siegel. It sounds like a good idea, and in theory supports the hospital in its efforts to promote good health, but they (or at least the article fails to mention that) fail to consider the aspect that an applicant may be using smoking cessation products/aids, which have nicotine. Plus, I am curious to hear how they feel about applicants with other negative lifestyle created health issues such as obesity, heavy alcohol use, medicine addicts, etc.

It would be more beneficial and proactive to hire the best people and then help them with their various or specific health problems. Maybe consider a probationary basis pending successful completion of a smoking cessation program?

G Keen

There are more chemicals in food that harm us worse than smoking. My brother an alcoholic almost died from abuse. He is 11 months older than I am. I don't drink, party, take risk. I don't show up hungover, sick from drinking, late from a party. I don't sleep with anything that comes along on two legs. I don't drink energy drinks that can give you a heart attack. I eat right and exercise regular. Maybe your job isn't worth having if you can label someone you don't know. If you can judge someone on one thing then I don't want you for an employer. I wish someone who isn't judgmental and so opinuated. It is good that you are perfect. When you get them to take the javex out of my water, the rat poison out of my food. and stop all the hazardous chemicals in my food and water then I will quit smoking. If I am going to be healthy I am going all the way. Not part way. Do drinkers who drink and drive apply for a job. Do you stop sex offenders also. How do you stop abusive people from applying for a job. I could go on but I am wasting my time with people like you.

Bren

P.S. I had a flu shot. It cost me five weeks of work. Had nothing to do with smoking. I had the trotts for five weeks. 30-40 bouts a day. I was on medication for seizures. It killed my liver. took 10 years for my liver to recover from those meds. I had an herbalist tell me my liver was bad. I told my GP and she refused to test my liver. I found out how bad it was when another dr. ordered the tests. Had nothing to do with smoking. Why is smoking blamed for everything. I don't smoke in my home. If I am somewhere and a non smoker comes near me when I am smoking then that is their fault. They can stay away if they choose to do so. If smoking is so bad why is it not banned and why does the government collect the taxes from it. Why are energy drinks not banned? Why does nascar driver have beer sponsors on cars? Does that not support drinking and driving? Do you allow cell phone on the job or at work? Don't have one and don't want one. How many pot smokers do you employ? Any bikers? I would never work for someone like you. You have no right to judge someone you don't know. People like you are never happy. Once the smokers are gone you will find something else to pick on. You should worry less about what others are doing. Most people are sick from chemicals in the food and water. Or the medications that are forced on them from illness from food and chemical reactions. I guess you never read those reports. I have stumped dr.'s more than once with illnesses that were not caused by smoking. Who allowed this product and chemicals on the shelf. The government. There are worse things out there then smoking. Driving while stoned, drinking and driving, unprotected sex partners, guns, violence, ...... and then list goes on.

Bren