In what might be the most draconian smoking-related employment policy to date, the Franciscan Health System of Tacoma has announced that only nicotine-free individuals will be eligible for employment. The source of the nicotine does not matter: whether it is due to smoking, smokeless tobacco, electronic cigarettes, nicotine patches or gum, or even secondhand smoke exposure, prospective employees must be nicotine-free in order to have their job applications considered. The policy will be enforced by using a urine cotinine test, which can detect exposure to nicotine from any source.
According to an article in the Tacoma News-Tribune: "If you smoke, chew, sniff, snort or dip tobacco products, cross one big South Sound business off your list of potential employers. Tacoma’s Franciscan Health System is adding a qualification for prospective employees beginning next month: They must be tobacco-free. ... 'Our mission calls us to create healthier communities,' said Franciscan Chief Operating Officer Dr. Cliff Robertson. 'We cannot in good conscience simultaneously be a champion for healthy communities and continue to hire people who smoke and use tobacco products.'" ...
"Franciscan spokesman Gale Robinette said the company will add a tobacco-detecting urine test to its post-job-offer drug test beginning March 1. That test can detect tobacco use from cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, snus and snuff and even from nicotine patches and heavy second-hand smoke. If tobacco is detected in the prospective employee’s system – no matter whether that tobacco comes from living with smokers or using a nicotine patch – the person won’t be hired, said the health system."
According to the Franciscan Health System web site: "Franciscan has implemented a policy of hiring only job applicants who are nicotine-free. As of March 1, 2011, nicotine will be added to list of substances screened for during the post-offer, pre-employment testing for all external job candidates offered employment. A positive test for nicotine, regardless of the source, will eliminate a job candidate from employment consideration."
The Rest of the Story
Despite Franciscan's protestations, this policy has nothing to do with health. It is, instead, a policy based purely on ideology.
If there were any concern for health, then why would the health system refuse employment to people who have successfully quit smoking and are maintaining themselves smoke-free via the use of nicotine patches, nicotine gum, or electronic cigarettes?
Clearly, the policy is motivated instead by an ideology which demonizes nicotine, regardless of its source. This is a religious-like policy that has absolutely no public health basis.
My readers recognize that I think the policy goes too far merely by refusing to employ smokers. However, it is particularly striking that Franciscan will not even hire people who live with smokers or who are exposed to secondhand smoke in other ways, such as inhaling secondhand smoke in public places.
Now, Franciscan is trying not only to control the behavior of its own employees, but of the families of those employees. Why should someone who lives with a smoker be ineligible to apply for a job in the health care field?
According to Franciscan, "We cannot in good conscience simultaneously be a champion for healthy communities and continue to hire people who smoke and use tobacco products." How, then, can Franciscan in good conscience simultaneously be a champion for healthy communities and continue to hire people who eat high-fat, high-calorie, high-salt diets and who do not exercise?
How can Franciscan be a champion for healthy communities and continue to hire people who are obese, who are overweight, who have high blood pressure, or who have overweight-related diabetes?
The rest of the story is that the Franciscan Health System is being more than just inconsistent and hypocritical with this policy. It is being bigoted.