The University of Pennsylvania Health System is taking a bold step: in July of this year, they will no longer be hiring people who smoke. The system says this new policy will improve the health of employees, as well as save the system itself money.
In order to apply to work at Penn Health, a person must be tobacco-free for six months. Employees caught lying about tobacco use, including doctors, face the risk of having his or her job terminated. The new policy doesn’t apply to current employees, but Penn Health is already charging them higher premiums if they are tobacco users.
In 2012, about 11% of employees who used Penn Health’s insurance said they smoked. The health system is hoping that creating a non-smoking workforce will save them some money. Their website reads:
Employees who smoke cost, on average, $3,391 more a year for health care. In addition, smoke breaks during work may be disruptive and subject patients/colleagues to the unpleasant smell of smoke on employees’ scrubs and clothing.
Penn’s system has 17,500 employees in Philadelphia and other locations in Pennsylvania. Penn Health is not, however, the first health system to make a decision to eradicate smokers; Cleveland Clinic went smoke-free in 2005 and other systems have since followed suit.
Largely, I think this is a good idea. People should be cutting down on smoking and it makes sense that a health system would encourage that among their employees. And what better way to encourage smoking cessation that withholding employment, right? As a healthcare consumer (and someone that might not want to smell smoke on people’s clothes, hands, and bodies when I’m in the hospital, if I ever am), I like this idea, both on a personal level and because of what it means for attitudes about smoking in our culture: it means that smoking is dying.
A teeny tiny part of me feels like an organization shouldn’t be able to prescribe what its employees can do with their time, money, and bodies, but I guess since it’s a private organization, Penn Health can do whatever it wants. And I don’t feel like effect of this new decision infringes on individual rights as much as it benefits public health. Less smoking is good for everyone: smokers, non-smokers, and especially people who are often in healthcare settings.
What do you think about the Tobacco Free Hiring Policy? If you’re interested, you can read more about it here.