Penn Puts Hiring Ban On Smokers

The University of Pennsylvania Health System (UPHS) will no longer be hiring people who use nicotine at its Pennsylvania locations. The ban goes into effect July 1.

The ban will not apply to residents who begin this summer but will apply to applicants for the 2014 residency program, according to MedPageToday. It will also not apply to current employees but to new hires. However, current employees who smoke or use nicotine and are not enrolled in a smoking cessation program will be charged higher health insurance premiums than employees who do not use nicotine. Similarly, new hires who start smoking after they take a job at Penn will be offered smoking cessation programs and will be subject to higher health insurance premiums.

UPHS issued a statement on its website, stating:

“Over 50 years of research has proven that tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death and disease in the U.S., imposing a huge health and financial burden on families and businesses. Employees who smoke cost, on average, $3,391 more a year for healthcare. In addition, smoke breaks during work may be disruptive and subject patients/colleagues to the unpleasant smell of smoke on employees’ scrubs and clothing.”

UPHS also cited recent CDC statistics that found that smoking or exposure to second hand smoke “contributes to 443,000 premature deaths annually and results in $193 billion in healthcare costs and lost productivity.”

New Jersey will be exempt from Penn’s smoking ban due to a state law that restricts employers from putting policies in place “that limit employment opportunities based on tobacco use.”

UPHS vice president Judy Schueler said Penn officials want to educate patients on healthy lifestyles as well as serve as a model for the community. Employees will not be tested for tobacco use, but, if it turns out an employee has lied about their usage, he or she will be disciplined for “falsification of application.”

The ban has drawn some critics, even from inside the system. The head of Penn’s smoking treatment program, Dr. Frank Leone, called the ban “regressive.”

“People have dealt with this for a very long time, desperately wanting to quit, unable to quit, confused about why they can’t quit,” Leone said. “It’s hard to imagine a person doing anything but really just hiding the fact that they’re a smoker. And once that happens, particularly in a healthcare institution, the chances that they’ll go and seek care for the problem go down considerably in my mind.”

Others felt that, since the university is a private company, it has the right not to hire smokers.

Do you think Penn has the right not to hire smokers or to charge employees who smoke higher health insurance premiums?