FRIDAY, Jan. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Following the lead of the Cleveland Clinic and a growing number of other hospitals, Pennsylvania's Geisinger Health System will turn away job applicants who smoke starting next month.
"This is quite a trend. Hospital systems throughout the country are doing this increasingly," said Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor of community health sciences at Boston University School of Public Health.
The move further flames a debate between workers' rights organizations and health advocates over whether denying jobs based on tobacco use is just. Some argue it's a form of employment discrimination, while organizations that adopt such standards, including Geisinger, say that turning away smokers reduces health care costs and absenteeism, and sets a healthy example.
Non-nicotine hiring policies are legal in many states, including Pennsylvania. Only 29 states have laws that prohibit making employment decisions based on smoking or tobacco use, said Paul Billings, vice president of national policy and advocacy at the American Lung Association.
All of Geisinger's facilities have been tobacco-free since 2007, said Marcy Marshall, the organization's director of clinical enterprise communications. "This new policy was just the next step in creating a tobacco-free environment," she said.
"Users of nicotine in Pennsylvania are not a legally protected class. We're well within our rights according to Pennsylvania law to do this," Marshall said. Geisinger employs more than 14,400 workers, and Marshall said those who already use tobacco won't risk losing their jobs when the new hiring measure goes into effect on Feb. 1.
"We have a responsibility, being a health care organization, to encourage people to take good care of themselves. Certainly using any nicotine products is harmful to your body -- it's been scientifically proven," Marshall said
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