Healthcare News & Insights

Hospitals ban workers from smoking

Inspired by a commitment toward health, many hospitals have policies stating their campuses are smoke-free. Staff, patients and their families are forbidden from smoking on hospital grounds. Some have taken this further, though – and there’s a serious debate over whether it’s fair. 

ThinkstockPhotos-155246604Policies banning smoking at hospitals have become more common over the past few years. Many facilities across the country, from world-renowned hospitals to smaller facilities, have banned smoking entirely.

In fact, over 3,800 hospitals, health systems and clinics have smoke-free campuses, according to information from no-smoke.org. And some municipalities have even passed laws prohibiting smoking within a certain distance from hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

Now there’s a push to keep smokers from working at hospitals.

Recently, Arkansas Children’s Hospital created a policy saying that anyone who currently smokes cigarettes won’t be considered for any open positions. Per an Associated Press article from the Washington Times, as of May 1, hospital applicants will be screened for nicotine, just like they’d be for any other drug. If it’s found in their system, they can’t go further in the hiring process – although they’ll be encouraged to reapply after 90 days smoke-free.

While current employees at Arkansas Children’s Hospital will also be regularly screened for tobacco use, they won’t be penalized if it’s found in their systems, and they’ll still be able to keep their jobs.

Other facilities have adopted similar no-hire policies – and some have even extended the ban to current employees, enforced by regular drug testing.

Pros & cons

Supporters of these blanket smoking bans say it’s important for hospitals to promote healthy living in all aspects. And if clinical staff would encourage hospital patients to quit smoking, why should hospital employees be allowed to smoke cigarettes?

Plus, some patients are allergic to the mere smell of smoke on someone’s clothes, so it could be possible that the secondhand smoke from an employee could aggravate someone’s medical condition.

While a ban or restriction on smoking on hospital grounds is one thing, some object to a full-on ban of hiring smokers at hospitals – or forbidding current employees from doing so once their shifts are over.

Dr. Michael Kirsch, a gastroenterologist who runs the blog MD Whistleblower, thinks these policies cross the line.

In a recent post, Dr. Kirsch writes: “If medical personnel smoke on their own time, but refrain from doing so on the job, I do not believe this should disqualify them from their jobs.”

He goes on to say that employees are entitled to partake in many other (legal) vices that may harm their health on their own time, including eating fried food and avoiding exercise, so smoking shouldn’t be any different.

Firm, clear policy

Whether a hospital chooses to allow smoking or not, policies should be consistent across all departments and offices in the facility. Rules and restrictions need to be clear for both staff and patients if smoking is banned outright. And if smoking’s allowed in designated areas, there should be clear signage indicating those areas.

Facilities looking to change or update their smoking policies may want to look at how other neighboring hospitals and health systems are handling the issue before making a decision.

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