Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Memorial Health Care System in Tennessee Refuses to Hire Smokers Who are Trying to Quit Using Nicotine Replacement Therapy

Not only would President Barack Obama not be eligible to apply for a job with the Memorial Health Care System in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but he would not even be eligible if he was successfully refraining from using tobacco with the help of nicotine replacement therapy.

The Memorial Health Care System recently announced that it would no longer hire anyone who smokes, anyone who uses tobacco in any form, or anyone who uses nicotine products. The policy, which became effective on February 1, 2010, is enforced through a post-offer health screening which verifies that a prospective employee does not use tobacco or nicotine products.

The policy states: "To further our mission of building healthier communities, effective February, 1, 2010, Memorial Health Care System will no longer hire individuals who use tobacco or nicotine products in any form. Memorial Health Care System and its affiliates recognize the major importance of associates’ health and well being, and the responsibility of maintaining a healthy and safe environment for all associates, volunteers, patients and visitors. Therefore, all individuals who are offered a position with Memorial Health Care System or any of its affiliates, are screened for illegal drug, alcohol, and/or tobacco/nicotine use as part of the post-offer health screening. Individuals whose post-offer health screening results are verified positive for illegal drugs, alcohol, and/or tobacco/nicotine use, and/or whose reference and/or background checks are verified unsatisfactory, will be disqualified from employment, their job offer will be withdrawn, and they may be disqualified from applying for employment for six (6) months from the date of the post-offer health screening."

The Rest of the Story

That the Memorial Health Care System would not employ anyone who is trying to quit smoking by use of a nicotine-containing product, such as a nicotine patch or electronic cigarette, pretty much tells you that this policy is not about health. It is about punishing smokers. The primary purpose of the policy, in my view, is to discriminate against smokers and make it more difficult for them to find employment. Why else would you refuse to hire someone who has successfully quit smoking using electronic cigarettes or the nicotine patch?

Clearly, the policy is not about "building healthier communities," as Memorial states. Instead, it is about punishing anyone who now does or recently did choose to smoke. This is lifestyle choice discrimination. It has nothing to do with building a healthier or more effective work force.

What the policy is about is not building healthier communities, but building unhealthy communities in which employment discrimination is accepted.

A recent article in the American Medical News (the newspaper of the American Medical Association) highlighted two opposing viewpoints on this policy. On one side, John Banzhaf, the director of ASH, argued that this employment discrimination is justified because it will save money for the employer.

However, policies that ban overweight people from employment would also save money for the employer. Is ASH also pushing for policies that would prohibit overweight individuals from applying for a job with the Memorial Health Care System?

On the other side, Dr. Alan Blum, professor of family medicine and director of the University of Alabama Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society, argued that: "This gets into personal freedoms, and I'm very uncomfortable with this. This would be very low on my wish list for what hospitals should be doing. What is it about the person who smokes that makes them less qualified?"

Way to go Dr. Blum for speaking out against this employment discrimination and pointing out that the fact that a person smokes does not make them less qualified for a position.

Hopefully, other physicians will join Dr. Blum in taking an active stance against these type of discriminatory employment policies against smokers.

The rest of the story is that the Memorial Health Care System is not in fact promoting a healthier environment. Instead, it is promoting employment discrimination, hatred against, and punishment of a class of individuals based solely on a particular behavioral choice they have made which has no relation to their qualifications for employment.

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