Tennessee - hospital will no longer hire people that use tobacco products..

January 20, 2010 - As if higher tobacco taxes, steeper health insurance premiums and smoke-free workplaces weren’t enough, tobacco users have one more financial incentive to kick the habit — missed job opportunities. Starting February 1,2010 in Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga, Tennessee no longer will hire people who use tobacco products, making the hospital one of a small number (but growing) of employers nationwide that consider smoking status in job applicants.

Under the new rule, which does not affect current Memorial employees, those offered employment at the hospital will be tested for nicotine during their required drug test, a human resources officer said. Even nicotine gum or the patch would make a potential employee ineligible.

The decision not to hire tobacco users isn’t based on potential savings in health care costs, but rather is an extension of the hospital’s commitment to health, said Brad Pope, vice president of human resources. Like all hospitals in the region, Memorial’s entire hospital campus is tobacco-free. “I understand the concerns people have, but we are here for the health of our community,” he said. “Like it or not, what’s proven is that tobacco is the most preventable cause of death and disability in the United States. I think the Chattanooga and surrounding communities should expect this from Memorial.”

The practice of refusing employment to tobacco users began to crop up a few years ago and isn’t yet widespread, a tobacco control researcher said. Particularly in the deep South, and in a tobacco state such as Tennessee, it’s a bold move for Memorial, said pulmonologist Dr. Carlos Baleeiro, in Fort Oglethorpe. “It’s very brave of them,” he said. “I’m quite impressed by Memorial.”

A growing number of workplaces now deny employees the right to smoke anywhere on their campus, including outside. Policy prohibiting the hiring of tobacco users may be the future as the country develops a deepening social intolerance of smoking, said Jay Collum, coordinator of tobacco education and control at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department.

Costs and productivity consideration have led many employers nationwide, including the Chattanooga Times Free Press, to raise health insurance premiums for employees who use tobacco products and experiment with other programs to encourage wellness and help workers quit using tobacco, said Ron Harr, senior vice president of human resources and public affairs for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

The average smoker costs his or her employer $2,500 to $4,000 more each year in health care costs, compared with a nonsmoker, said Cathy Taylor, assistant health commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Health. Nationally, smoking is responsible for an estimated $96 billion in direct medical costs and $97 billion in lost productivity annually, according to estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Reference: Smokers need not apply for a job Memorial carves out plan to emphasize health focus by Emily Bregel, Chattanooga TimesFree.press, 1/18/2010.