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Tennessee Hospital to Stop Hiring Tobacco Users

Officials at a Chattanooga hospital have decide to stop hiring tobacco users.

Brad Pope, vice president of human resources at Memorial Hospital, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press the decision is an extension of the hospital's commitment to health and is not based on potential health care cost savings.

"I understand the concerns people have, but we are here for the health of our community," Pope said. "Like it or not, what's proven is that tobacco is the most preventable cause of death and disability in the United States. I think the Chattanooga and surrounding communities should expect this from Memorial."

Any form of nicotine will make an applicant ineligible to be hired — even nicotine gum or a patch.

The new hiring rule will not affect current employees of Memorial.

Dr. Carlos Baleeiro, with Battlefield Pulmonology in Fort Oglethorp, Ga., said the refusal by hospitals to hire tobacco users isn't yet widespread, especially in tobacco producing states.

"It's very brave of them," he said. "I'm quite impressed by Memorial."

Memorial is a nonprofit hospital that is operated by the Sisters of Charity order, based in Nazareth, Ky. It opened in 1952. The hospital Web site states Memorial is also part of Catholic Health Initiatives, which serves hospitals in 22 states.

The Memorial system has two acute care hospitals and a number of clinics.

Information posted on the Web site states testing for nicotine will be added to an already-required screening for illegal drugs and will disqualify applicants who test positive.

The posting states applicants who have been offered jobs and who test positive for tobacco won't be hired and may be disqualified for reapplying for six months.

Not everyone sees the move as entirely beneficial.

Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, said he believes a policy barring the hiring of tobacco users is discriminatory.

Siegel said he avidly supports education on the dangers of using tobacco, but questions whether the hiring practice is fair.

"The same rationale that would support not hiring smokers would also support not hiring people who are obese or people who have young children or people who don't eat nutritious food or people who don't exercise," he said. "What it's basically saying is the private behavior of people in their own homes is somehow relevant to their qualifications to work in a workplace."

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Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, http://www.timesfreepress.com