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Published: Tuesday, 7/1/2014 - Updated: 5 months ago

PUBLIC HEALTH

Toledo may go smoke free in its hiring policy

Mayor wants to help others quit

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Collins Collins
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Smokers need not apply.

Hicks-Hudson Hicks-Hudson
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That could be a sign at Toledo government offices with Mayor D. Michael Collins’ signature if he moves forward with a plan to prohibit the hiring of tobacco and nicotine users.

Ford Ford
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“This is good public policy, and it’s not driven by anything political,” Mayor Collins said on Monday.

The mayor said an administrative policy prohibiting the future employment of smokers and tobacco-product users would be written by mid-July.

He cited private-sector companies such as Hollywood Casino Toledo and the Cleveland Clinic that already have similar tobacco prohibitions for new employees.

“The people currently employed who smoke would not be affected since I have no intention of compromising their employment,” Mayor Collins said. “I believe strongly that we need to make smoking cessation available to them.”

Toledo could be the first major city in Ohio to implement such a policy.

Public Health — Dayton & Montgomery County, the joint city-county health department, started a strict nicotine-free hiring policy on Jan. 1.

“We do not hire people who smoke or use nicotine because of the health-care costs that are associated with smoke,” said Bill Wharton, a spokesman for the agency.

“We did a lot of research before we decided to do that and it says right on our application form that we do not hire people who are smoking or using nicotine.”

That agency went a step further. Any employee who uses nicotine products and wants a promotion must agree to participate in approved cessation programs every six months until they are nicotine and tobacco-free.

‘‍Human experiment’

Mayor Collins said the policy would be a “human experiment” and called it a “progressive step” that would eventually save Toledo money on health-care costs as the city is self-insured.

Although legal because federal laws allow nicotine-free hiring because smokers are not recognized as a protected class, such policies are controversial.

Tobacco backer

David Sutton, a spokesman for Altria, the parent company of tobacco giant Philip Morris USA, said Mayor Collin’s proposal would “unfairly target adult tobacco consumers based on their choice to use a legal product, by singling out a specific group of employees and jeopardizing their ability to earn a living just because they use a lawful product.”

Mr. Sutton said refusing to hire an applicant or terminating an employee because of tobacco use outside of the workplace is unfair and sets a dangerous precedent.

“Many others share our perspective that not hiring smokers or terminating employees on the basis of whether they are smokers, or have nicotine in their system goes too far,” he said.

The American Lung Association has a nicotine-free hiring policy, but it doesn't promote that for other companies or governmental agencies.

“We promote offering smokers the help they need to quit and offering them the help frequently and at low-cost or no cost,” said Shelly Kiser, director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Ohio. “What’s good about companies that are doing [nicotine-free hiring] is that they are also offering cessation help.”

 

ProMedica policy

In 2008, ProMedica banned smoking on all of its campuses — including outdoors — and stopped hiring tobacco-users in 2011.

Similar to what Mayor Collins is suggesting, ProMedica employees who smoke were “grandfathered in,” said Laura Ritzler, co-director of ProMedica Wellness.

“Our rational is that we are a health-care company, and we have to be good role models,” Ms. Ritzler said.

“We had to put into place screening for new hires. We do drug screening, but then had to screen for nicotine.”

ProMedica employment applications clearly state that new employees must be tobacco and nicotine-free for at least 90 days.

Mayor Collins said the city also would screen and let applicants know upfront that smokers and tobacco users would not be hired.

Cheryl Gomez, a registered nurse and patient-safety specialist for ProMedica, smoked for decades, but quit when the company’s 2011 policy went into effect.

“It made sense to me that since we are in the business of improving people’s health and their well-being and the longer I spoke about it the more it didn’t make sense for me to keep smoking,” Ms. Gomez said. “I realized I was just making excuses.”

Cleveland Clinic employees hired after 2007 must be nicotine-free. David Pauer, director for wellness for employee health plans at the Cleveland Clinic, said those employees would keep their jobs if they started smoking but could potentially pay a higher health-care premium if they were on the employee health plan.

 

Mixed reactions

Mayor Collins’‍ idea was met with mixed reactions from councilmen on Monday.

Council President Paula Hicks-Hudson, who said she has been a “recovering smoker” for about 15 years, said she was leaning toward favoring the idea.

“There are some employers in the private sector doing that, and I understand the need,” she said.

Councilmen Jack Ford and Sandy Spang were not as supportive.

Ms. Spang said she is wary of unintended consequences and wants to see data supporting the mayor’s supposition that money would be saved.

“There is an opportunity cost, eliminating a segment of the population because there are some people you cannot even consider for employment,” she said.

Mr. Ford said he supported the smoking ban but believes refusing to hire smokers goes too far.

“It would be better to give them the chance to get into a cessation program and work with them,” he said. “We would probably lose, in certain fields, some significant talent.”

Mr. Ford offered the same kind of criticism that smoking-proponents have offered against nicotine-free hiring policies.

“Anything you do to curb back people who have a tendency to get sick or problems related to smoking will probably save money, but I hope he doesn’t come in a couple months and say, ‘‍Let’s not let chubby people work,’ ” Mr. Ford said. “I hope he doesn’t bring that to Toledo or I am a dead duck ... I think the mayor has other things on his plate he needs to deal with like high grass, trash, and capital improvements reliance on our general fund budget.”

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171 or on Twitter @IgnazioMessina.



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