MU Health Care won't hire smokers starting in 2015

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COLUMBIA - MU Health Care announced it won't hire smokers starting on Jan.1, 2015.

The new nicotine-free hiring policy exempts current employees, but all new applicants will be asked if they use nicotine products. If the applicant says "yes," they'll be given tobacco cessation information and given the opportunity to re-apply for jobs within 90 days. 

The policy will add nicotine to MU Health Care's pre-employment drug screenings.

Associate Professor of Family and Community Medicine Kevin Everett said banning nicotine isn't a new concept.

"Numerous health care organizations have adopted not hiring those who use tobacco products, or nicotine-free policies, across the nation," Everett said.

MU Health Care Chief Executive Officer Mitch Wasden said the new policy will help the hospital "lead by example."

"Improving the health of our patients, as well as the community and the state, is central to our mission as a leading academic medical center," Wasden said.

Everett agreed, "One of Mu Health Care's primary missions is ensuring the health of our patients. And as we move forward and try to advance and become one of the leaders in the state as an academic health setting, we want to make sure we're leading by example. We're creating a culture of health here, and our employees will take the lead on that."

MU adjunct law professor Sandy Davidson said the policy not discriminatory.

"There is no constitutional right to smoke, so from that perspective, there's not a legal problem," Davidson said. "Employers can't discriminate in many different ways, discriminating against smoking would not fall into any protected categories."

MU Health Care has been a smoke-free campus since 2006, and officials say asking employees to be smoke-free is a natural progression. 

"In health care, we've come to strong conclusions that tobacco use is unhealthy for everyone, both the user and the non-user," Everett said. "It's the leading cause of death and disability in this country and this state. I think this is a next step in our organization's strategy to build out healthier work forces and create a healthier environment for people to be healed when they're here as patients."

Davidson said, "If any employers should be looking at nicotine-free policy, it would seem to me that employers of health care workers would be the logical ones to say 'no smokers.'" 

Another consideration Davidson brought up was employers' decreased health costs if employees don't smoke, and patients who are more sensitive to smoke won't have worry about the smell left in clothes or hair. Davidson also said regulating smoking could be a slippery slope for future regulatory policies. 

Cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, snuff, clove cigarettes and electronic cigarettes are all included in the policy's list of banned nicotine products.