Sunday, March 29, 2015

Should Hospitals Ban Workers from Smoking at Home?

I practice gastroenterology in Cleveland in the dark shadow of a large medical institution whose name contains the name of our city.  They are a world class medical institution whose reputation is largely derived from its cardiovascular department.   Presumably, these practitioners, like all doctors, advise patients who smoke that cigarettes have deleterious health effects.    The entire campus is smoke-free, as are all hospitals today.   This is a relatively new development.  A few years ago, nurses and other hospital staff would huddle at the entrance puffing away.   No more.  Now, there is no smoking anywhere on the hospital property.  Hospital puffers now have to wait until quitting time, when they are behind the wheel and leaving the grounds before they light up. 

I’m okay with all this.  The hospital should set an example to promote better health.  Patients and families who enter the hospital who must pass through a smoky fog might wonder about the hospital’s commitment to health and healing.   Of course, one could make the same argument about overweight nurses and physicians, but obesity apparently cannot be legally outlawed on hospital wards. 

The mega-medical-mall here in Cleveland has put in place a no smoking policy on steroids.  Not only can’t you smoke on the job, but you can’t smoke anywhere on this planet or any other extraterrestrial location.  In fact, workers there will be tested periodically for nicotine to verify compliance with the edict.

Touch These and You're Fired!

I’m not okay with this policy.  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.  Folks are entitled to smoke, drink, curse, watch adult movies, gain weight, eat deep fried onion rings and forego aerobic exercise when they are on their own time.  Of course, the hospital should encourage personnel to quit and offer treatment programs to assist them in doing so.  But, mandating this as a job requirement is wrong. 

We have staff in our office who smoke.  I wish they didn’t, and they know it.  But, we’re not about to fire them for this addiction which does not impact on their job performance.

While our office is smoke-free, we do permit staff smokers to take a break outside when they feel they need inhalation therapy.  These sessions occur out of view of our patients.  Some of our non-smoking staff have muttered that this is unfair as the puffers are in effect rewarded with a breaks during the day that they do not receive.   While this argument is valid, we have left the status quo in effect.   I’m not sure the greater good in our small practice would be served by enforcing a no smoking policy, although admittedly, this is arguable.
Outlawing Camels and Marlboros at both work and play is beyond Big Brother.  It’s an intrusive violation of personal freedom that should be extinguished. 

To those who support it, why stop with cigarettes?  What other activities and behaviors should be prohibited off the job? I have a personal interest here. If sarcasm were on the list, then I’d be fired. 


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. "Some of our non-smoking staff have muttered that this is unfair as the puffers are in effect rewarded with a breaks during the day that they do not receive. While this argument is valid, we have left the status quo in effect."

    rewarding smoking makes no sense, punishing non-smokers because it is status quo? I agree it shouldn't be something to be fired for if you do it on your own time, but you still allow (and reward?) folks for doing it at work - in the medical field, I just cannot agree with that

  3. You are exactly right in your comments. Smoking is a horrible habit, but employers shouldn't get to dictate in this area. And yes it's humane to have just the policy about smokers that you do.

    I'm not a smoker, never have been, and I think anyone my age (64) or younger who ever smoked is incredibly foolish as the consequences were well known throughout our lives, but I do believe in personal freedom.

  4. If employees smoke while on the job, they bring the stinch of the tobacco back into the workplace with them. Patients as well as anyone withing sniffing distance can smell the odor. I find it unpleasant.

  5. All your employees should be treated fairly - equal break time for whatever they choose to do with it.

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  7. Why is it ok to smoke away from the hospital and then bring the contaminants to the hospital via one's hair, lungs and clothing?

  8. Each smoker costs an employer $6,000 annually in additional costs related to higher insurance premiums, absenteeism, presenteeism, break time, etc. It just makes good business $ense to avoid hiring people who use tobacco.

  9. While you might read somewhere that a smoker costs $6,000 per yr, I am extremely skeptical of this. Would it make good 'business sense' not to hire folks with a history of heart disease to save employers a few bucks? Be careful with this argument.

    With regard to our practice, while we don't assign everyone equal breaks, which I agree is fair, the status quo works well in our small, family-style medical practice.

    If we are going to make private behavior a condition of employment, why stop with just smoking?

  10. I think smoking should be illegal period, or at least in public. I find many smokers don't care/realize that the second hand smoke they produce on the street affects non-smokers' health too. However, since it is legal I don't see the problem with people smoking in their own homes; it's their funeral. But, smoking outside of a hospital/healthcare setting and coming back inside, reeking of smoke, to work with patients is not acceptable.

  11. fragrances,pet dander, top ten allergens, exhaust residue, molds, dust mites- all toxic to various populations. fruits and veggies that are non-organic, toxic to certain populations.

    Rather shocked by the "hysteria". 5-10 percent increase at best for heart disease and cancer. Your bacon and wine will drag you to death's door as quickly.

    Driving, hiking, water sports, all have a higher fatality.
    What is next bacon,soda,twinkies? If the employee's want to use their break to smoke? So be it. Unless you have a proven allergy the residual on their skin,clothes and hair are almost no risk at all to you.
    Did you know that studies prove that smokers are better tippers? Kinder and more appreciative? Smarter? Yep, despite the health risks, the higher IQ population is far more likely to smoke.
    Did you know nicotine is the most effective mood stabilizer on the face of the planet? Big Pharma has been frustrated they are unable to replicate it.