Baylor and other health providers stop hiring smokers

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Michelle Baalmann
Contributing Writer

-------------------Photo by Danny Sauer---------------------- Student Cate Hieronymus lights up her cigarette next to the “no-smoking” sign outside of Haggar.

For years we have been told that smoking is bad for us. Now, employers are taking more action against tobacco use, going as far as banning their employees from using it at all. Starting Jan. 1, 2012, Baylor Health Care System, one of Texas’ largest health care systems, will no longer hire applicants who use any form of tobacco.

Baylor Health, also one of the largest employers in North Texas, defends its decision by saying that providing health insurance for tobacco-using employees is expensive and fails to set a good example for patients. Baylor’s website states that “as a health care system committed to improving the health of those we serve, we are asking employees to model the same behaviors promoted to patients.”

Health care providers believe that smoking sets smokers apart from other employees, claiming that employees who use tobacco cause the company to incur losses. According to the Food and Drug Association, smoking costs American employers nearly $200 billion per year in productivity loss and higher health care costs.

The new policy will affect current employees, though it will not require them to give up smoking completely. The Baylor Human Resources department said that smokers who currently smoke – 2 percent of the total number of employees – will be required to pay an insurance surcharge of $650 per year, a $600 increase from current costs.

Also starting at the beginning of next year, applicants who use tobacco need not even apply to Baylor Health. All applicants will now be required to submit to nicotine screening, as well as drug screening. The Baylor Health website states, “Applicants who test positive for nicotine will be eliminated from consideration and pending job offers will be rescinded.”

While many individuals argue that Baylor’s new policy against tobacco use is unfair and discriminatory, Dallas employment attorneys say that it is perfectly legal. For businesses, there are specific legal classes, such as race and religion, which employers are not allowed to discriminate against. Tobacco use is not one of these classes, giving the company free reign to hire and fire based on tobacco use, according to Thomas Brandt, a Dallas employment attorney interviewed by CBS news.

Baylor is not the first, however, to adopt such a bold policy against tobacco users. Hospitals across the United States, including hospitals in Michigan, Tennessee, Georgia and Washington, have already put the policy in place.

Could the University of Dallas be looking at taking action against tobacco use? Complaints have arisen of students and faculty smoking too close to buildings, causing health threats to those around them.

Within the past year, the University placed new signs around Braniff building, indicating the location of the intake vents that could bring smoke inside the building.

Dr. Charles Eaker, dean of Constantin College, said that he “appreciate[s] that most smokers have avoided smoking in these areas,” after he made an announcement about it due to complaints.

A number of colleges in the U.S. have banned their students and faculty from using tobacco on campus altogether. According to the American Cancer Society, “The trend toward a smoke-free country is going on everywhere,” and “college campuses are simply reflecting the same trend we see in society.”

Society seems to be taking the fight against tobacco to the next level. As smokers are pushed farther and farther away from buildings, non-smokers are taking full advantage of the open employment playing field. Employment rates are low, and it’s already an extremely competitive application pool.  These budding anti-tobacco policies are now causing students to think twice before they light up their next cigarette.

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