|By Jon Kelvey, Carroll County Times, Westminster, Md.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
"We expected a lot of attention with this: We understand that it's a bold move," said
Current hospital employees have been eligible for the free smoking cessation products for the past two years, according to Simmons, with voluntary nicotine testing.
"Last year, we made the nicotine testing mandatory if you had our insurance. If you tested positive, we again offered cessation products," she said. "This year, if you decided you didn't want to quit, then a smoking surcharge was added biweekly for any associate covered under our insurance."
Current employees will be grandfathered in when it comes to the new zero-tolerance policy toward nicotine, however, Simmons said. No current employees will be fired for their use of tobacco or nicotine products.
There is no legal protection for smokers or nicotine users, whether they are new applicants or existing employees.
"I know there have been some questions about the legality, and of course, we would never do anything like this without having it thoroughly vetted," Simmons said. "The federal government ... classifies smoking as an activity, not an issue that is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, so we are perfectly within our rights to do that."
It's not just the Americans with Disabilities Act that applies to employment discrimination, according to the website of the
Even if perfectly legal, the hospital's goal of controlling the behavior of employees at home and outside the workplace is troubling to some, including
"This breaches a firewall that is very dangerous. If we can prevent people from working because they smoke, there is nothing to stop them from preventing them from working because they are obese or because they drink alcohol," Rothschild said. "Where do you draw the line?"
If the goal is protecting health and lowering insurance costs, Rothschild said, why not ban high-risk activities like skiing as well?
There is a major difference between skiing or even drinking and nicotine use, according to Simmons, however. Nicotine, she said, is the leading cause of death in the community and in the nation.
According to the hospital news release that announced the policy change, "Nicotine use causes a wide range of health problems, including heart disease and cancer, and is the leading cause of preventable deaths in
According to the
However, that figure pertains to the use of tobacco, and not tobacco-free nicotine products such as gums, patches and e-cigarettes. Nevertheless, that distinction is not recognized by the hospital.
"We look at them together. There is nicotine in tobacco," Simmons said. "I am not suggesting you won't find something out there that [will] differ, but our experts believe that nicotine is just as dangerous and causes just as much harm and needs to be dealt with."
Dissenting opinions on the risk associated with the use of nontobacco nicotine products is easy to find. According to a CDC spokesman, who in accordance with CDC policy would not give his name, while nicotine alone can have negative effects on the developing, adolescent brain, and is implicated in high blood pressure and heart problems, it is not a carcinogen, and the assertion that the use of nicotine gum, e-cigarettes or other nicotine products that do not contain tobacco are as dangerous as smoking has little scientific basis.
The CDC's website does provide information on the growing number of e-cigarette calls to poison control centers across the nation -- 2,405 between
It is the addictive power of nicotine and its relation to tobacco that concerns the hospital, Simmons said. Controversial or not, she said the decision is an important step toward reducing deaths from tobacco smoke.
"We have been working with the Partnership for a Healthier Carroll County, and we have a countywide goal to reduce the number of smokers in
Reach staff writer
(c)2014 the Carroll County Times (Westminster, Md.)
Visit the Carroll County Times (Westminster, Md.) at www.carrollcountytimes.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services