TN hospital: No jobs for smokers

Policy promotes 'healthy behaviors'

Smokers need not apply. That is the new policy of Memorial Health Care System in Chattanooga, TN.

Everyone who applies for a job at Memorial Health Care will be tested for nicotine, and employment offers will be rescinded for those who test positive. The policy mirrors that of several other health systems, including the Cleveland Clinic and Akron Children's Hospital in Ohio and Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, GA.

It is the natural next step after implementing a tobacco-free campus, Brad Pope, vice president of human resources, explained in emailed comments.

"As a hospital, our work force and the communities we serve should expect us to set the example for improving healthy behaviors and lifestyles," he said. "We realize this will not happen overnight and there will be difficult decisions to make, but that should not stop us from making the decisions that will keep us on our journey to creating healthier communities."

The hospital also offers programs for current employees who are smokers, including Freedom from Smoking, the cessation program proved successful by the American Lung Association. "Smoking doubles a person's risk for stroke and heart disease; it increases by 10 times your risk of dying from chronic obstructive lung disease, and it drives up the cost of health care," a Memorial employee newsletter reminds.

In a related development in the nation's biggest tobacco-producing state, no one can smoke or use tobacco on any campus of North Carolina's 125 acute care hospitals. North Carolina is the first state in the country to be 100% tobacco-free in its nonfederal hospitals. Employees at state hospitals who smoke also pay more for insurance premiums. It is a sign of things to come as more and more hospitals remove smoking — and other tobacco use — from their campuses, not just their buildings.

"We are still the No. 1 tobacco-producing state, and we have a tremendous number of health problems as a result of that," says Melva Fager Okun, DrPH, senior program manager for NC Prevention Partners in Chapel Hill, a nonprofit organization that seeks to reduce preventable illness and early death. "For us to have achieved this is remarkable. It's exceptional."