As of July 1, two Philadelphia hospitals, the University of Pennsylvania Hospital and the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania, will join dozens of healthcare systems nationwide in refusing to hire smokers.
The move has generated criticism from many quarters. Civil liberties activists have protested the intrusion into personal affairs and have theorized that the practice could force smokers to go to greater lengths to hide their smoking, thereby making them less likely to seek help in quitting. Others have pointed out the fairly obvious irony that a heavy drinker or junk food devotee would remain unaffected by the policy, despite contributing equally to the ills the policy is meant to address.
A study earlier this year found that employers are losing, on average, $6,000 per year per smoker hired. The figure looked not only at increased health insurance premiums but also lost productivity and absenteeism (i.e., smoke breaks).
Ralph Muller, speaking on behalf of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, said Penn was focusing on smoking rather than similar issues due to the fact that anti-smoking policies are backed by more than “50 years of science.” Apparently other lifestyle choice-related health problems—those associated with obesity, alcohol, or heroin use—don’t have the research to back up employment discrimination.
The new policy will only affect new hires, and it’s unclear what enforcement procedures the hospitals will implement. At the moment, it seems they’re leaning toward the honor system.
Other employers have had much more aggressive anti-tobacco enforcement procedures. Alaska Airlines requires all potential employees to have been nicotine-free for six months prior to employment—and makes prospective employees submit to a drug test to prove it. So, yeah, even that cigar on guys’ night—or the use of nicotine gum—will keep you from standing at an Alaska Airlines ticket counter.