Nicotine is highly addictive, and many smokers are hooked. To take a Zero Tolerance anti-smoking policy and firing violators without offering them the tools to quit would violate the same healing mission that the hospital is trying to protect. Smokers are not bad people. They are addicts.
At IU Health, for example, employees who violate the on-duty smoking ban are first counseled by a supervisor, given a written warning, and given a written invitation to join the hospital’s Quit For Life smoking cessation program. “If there are repeat offenses, they ultimately could be terminated, but that is just like any other policy,” Ladd says. “Our values are not that we are a mean-spirited organization but we are saying to our employees this isn’t helping our patients. It’s not safe. And you can’t do that to our patients.”
In previous columns I have questioned the right of employers to dictate what employees can do on their own time. And – justified as it may be as a matter of health and economics -- I am still very uneasy with the idea of removing smokers as job candidates. Smoking tobacco is legal. And if banning people for using a legal product is done in the name of controlling health insurance costs, then the slippery slope argument begs the question, what’s next? Bans on pizza and beer after work? Will diabetics be the next class of workers to be banned from the workplace? After all, much of Type 2 diabetes is related to diet, which is a lifestyle choice.