Thursday, November 03, 2011

Providence Alaska Medical Center To Implement Ban Against Hiring Smokers And Users Of Nicotine-Based Smoking Cessation Products

On November 3rd, 2011, the Anchorage Daily News and the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner report that Providence Alaska Medical Center and its affiliates, which employ approximately 4,300 people around the state, will stop hiring tobacco users beginning on November 17th, even if they only use tobacco off the job. Current employees will be grandfathered and allowed to stay on so long as they don't use tobacco on any property owned by Providence.

Those who currently use tobacco products, as well as those who have used tobacco products within the previous six months, will be excluded from employment. And the ban also extends to any nicotine-based smoking cessation or substitution products, to include patches, pills, gum, and even e-cigarettes (which also deliver nicotine, albeit without smoke). Providence will screen prospective employees for nicotine use by testing for a byproduct called cotinine; they say those who are merely exposed to second-hand smoke "shouldn't" come up positive.

The quote from Tammy Green, director of health management services for Providence Health & Services Alaska:

"We believe that by doing this move, to where we are no longer going to hire tobacco users, that we are sending a very clear message into the community that we are not only the leaders in health care, but we're really the leaders in health".

Proponents of the policy also argue that precluding smokers from employment can save employers an extra $3,400 per year on the average, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that a smoker costs an employer an extra $3,400 a year on average. They also note that smokers also are more likely to suffer injuries such as cigarette burns, which in extreme circumstances could prevent a nurse from scrubbing. In addition, unlike 29 other states and the District of Columbia, Alaska does not recognize smokers as a protected class under state labor law, which minimizes the threat of a smoker filing an ADA lawsuit claiming that tobacco addiction is a protected disability.

Opponents of the policy, who have posted comments to the Daily News story, not only wonder why Providence didn't first try less drastic measures, such as simply charging smokers more for health insurance or denying them employer-paid health coverage altogether, but are also concerned about the slippery-slope implications. They ask what will come next -- banning jobseekers who ride motorcycles or eat too many Big Macs? Comments are running about 50-50 on the issue. Four excellent comments best express these concerns (after the jump):

bbaegger November 3rd 11:30 A.M:
This is a great example of the slippery slope we're stepping onto as we move toward federally managed health care. In the interest of keeping the populous healthy and managing demand for limited care resources, we're going to need to regulate more and more risky behavior. Smoking, drinking, riding motorcycles, eating trans-fats, drinking soda, etc. Where will it end?

Better to let folks be responsible for their own health care expenses and decide for themselves how much risk they think they can afford. Cash on the barrelhead for medical care!

AlaskanGirls November 3rd 11:15 A.M:
This is just another way for corporations and insurance companies to micro-manage their employees. Providence already bans smoking on their property and that is where it should stop. Unfortunately there are not enough people who can understand where this is headed and why it is wrong.

It is no ones business what I do in my own home, especially when it is 100% legal. These employers want to control their employees at home as well as on the job to ensure their profit margins stay high. What's next..?? What ever they want to test for and base employment on they can and will... People just don't understand the freedoms they give up when they allow this type of thing to happen.

Obesity and diseases related to obesity (diabetes, heart disease etc.) are the leading health problems in America... so when do they start the weigh ins and the body fat measurements for employment screening...??? What height and weight restrictions will be given in order to gain employment at Providence...??

What will they test for next...??? Corn Syrup... Chocolate... Caffeine... Alcohol... If this escalates as far as the insurance companies want it to... only people deemed HEALTHY will be employable.

It's not about whether or not people like to smell cigarettes.... it's about the right to earn an income and have a job without being discriminated against. The employees of Providence... even the NON-SMOKERS should be on STRIKE right now until this nonsense is stopped. Unfortunately that won't happen... because people know that cigarettes are bad for you and that is what they base their decision on.. that one simple fact. If people look at the big picture and where this is headed... they would be outraged.

Go_Yukon_Quest November 3rd 12:05 P.M:
It's a Brave New World. Corporate personnel departments routinely check Facebook and all the social network sites to find out what their potential employees are doing in their "private off-work time". Where's the outrage? Corporate America makes the rules now. Get used to it or join the Occupy Wall Street crowd and protest for change!

These comment sections have never changed ANYTHING! Sheeple need not apply! Oh, BTW, how's that pee testing working for ya?!

stacybak November 3rd 10:58 A.M:
I do understand the reasoning behind the decision and that smokers cost a business far more in health insurance premium costs than a nonsmoker. I'm having trouble understanding how it is even legal to deny a tobacco smoker employment if they are an otherwise acceptable canidate and they agree with the hospital's smoke-free campus policy.

Even though I'm a nonsmoker and I think smoking is disgusting, unhealthy and a waste of money - I believe people have the right to do what they want within the law. Smoking tobacco is still legal, therefore smokers should be able to smoke where it is permitted and not feel as if their job or potential future employability is in jeopardy. Yes, smokers contribute to higher health insurance costs that us, ostensibly healthier, nonsmokers end up paying for.

Rather than restrict a person's rights (no matter how much you disagree with them), I would advocate a way for the insurance industry and employers to offer a separate health plan for smokers, so they can pay for their own costs rather than the burden being spread across nonsmokers and smokers alike. The cost of that alone might encourage smokers to quit.

Of course, a smoker could choose to quit. Many successfully do so each year, and the average price of over $9.00 per pack in Alaska offers a financial incentive to quit. But my main concern is that this could be used as a pretext by employers for more intrusive and invasive screening an exclusion measures; the soft economy means it's a buyers market for employers. There was also no reason why Providence couldn't have tried more intermediate measures first, such as offering a separate health plan for smokers.


  1. I don't agree with the quit somking policy, it infringes on peoples rights to do something that is totally legal. People lie on their applications and say they don't smoke, when they do. I wonder if Providence is going to test for all the drugs that can counteract nicotine? People will always find a way around drug testing, and they have already found a way around nictoine testing? Providence are you aware that you will still hire smokers without knowing it because you don't test for all the other drugs you can get on the aftermaket or off the internet? Tisk, tisk, you should be smarter. You will not save money on health care. So who are you going after next?

  2. 2nd hand smoke, and 3rd hand contact with the chemicals left behind after a person has been touching objects causes cancer. I think that if a person wants to smoke on their own time, fine, but they should be free of these substances before they go to work. I.e. they should smoke, take a shower, and then get ready and come to work, with no smoking in between, and no smoke breaks. I try to be healthy, but even if I eat a piece of chocolate, no one else but me can get sick from it (unless they're allergic, and I'd wash my hands). Sadly, they will still smell horrid, and I think that is unfair to push on others. I don't want to smell perfume or b.o. either!