ORLANDO, Fla.-Smokers need not apply. That's the word from a Florida health-care company, which announced Thursday that it will start a tobacco-free hiring policy at seven of its hospitals starting in April.
The move by Orlando Health is part of a controversial nationwide trend in which hospitals are leading the way.
Current Orlando Health employees who smoke will be exempt from the policy, but new hires must not use tobacco in any form, said hospital-system spokeswoman Kena Lewis.
"Our new tobacco-free hiring rule reinforces our culture of prevention and wellness for team members, patients and the Central Florida community," said Christy Pearson, a human-resources executive for Orlando Health. "It is our way of leading by example."
Job candidates who get an offer will continue to take a urine test that screens for drugs, but starting April 1, the test will also screen for cotinine, a byproduct of nicotine.
The test will detect all tobacco substances, including pipe tobacco, snuff, chew, smokeless tobacco and patches.
"If you're a regular user, it will show up," Lewis said.
The cotinine level can determine whether an individual is a primary tobacco user, which would block a hire, or is simply being exposed to secondhand smoke.
If a job candidate gets an offer and then tests positive for tobacco use, the offer will be rescinded.
"The message is, if you're interested in working here, don't use tobacco," Lewis said.
The new rule broadens an existing ban that went into effect in 2008 and prohibits smoking on any Orlando Health hospital campus.
Critics say the shift from smoke-free to smoker-free workplaces smacks of job discrimination.
In reaction to a similar announcement Wednesday from University of Pennsylvania Health System stating it would not hire tobacco users as of July, Dr. Michael Siegel, professor of public health at the Boston University School of Public Health, wrote a strongly worded blog post.
"Employees should be hired based on their bona fide qualifications for a job, not based on a group to which they happen to belong when that group membership does not relate to a specific job qualification," Siegel wrote.
Nonetheless, employers continue to adopt such rules in an attempt to reduce health-care costs by having a healthier workforce.
Cigarette smoking costs the United States more than $193 billion each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One in five U.S. deaths is attributed to smoking.
Such policies are taking hold in other hospitals across the country as well as other industries. The Baylor Health Care System in Texas started the ban last year, and the Cleveland Clinic stopped hiring tobacco users in 2007.