The University of Pennsylvania Health System will stop hiring tobacco users this July.
The Tobacco Free Hiring policy, which extends to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, aims to “improve the health of its workforce and reduce the cost of health-care benefits,” according to the system’s website.
The policy officially goes into effect July 1. Applicants with a start date on or after the effective date will be required to attest that they have not used tobacco products in the previous six months. Applicants caught lying will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination.
The policy does not apply to New Jersey candidates, as state laws restrict limits on employment opportunities based on tobacco use. However, these candidates are not exempt from higher insurance premiums.
Current employees who are tobacco users will not be impacted by the policy, while those who are not enrolled in a smoking cessation program or nicotine replacement therapy can expect to pay a higher premium on their health care benefit. UPHS offers both plans free of charge to staff and their families. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, about 11 percent of UPHS employees who are part of the health-insurance plans declared themselves users of tobacco.
“I think it’s important that doctors model their own health as an example for their patients. The new regulations will promote healthier living and reward these families with lower health-care costs,” said College sophomore Samantha Freedman, who is majoring in biological basis of behavior.
“I can see how these regulations may seem to limit an individual’s choice, but I think that they will ultimately promote cessation and healthier lifestyles,” she added.
According to The Institute of Medicine, on average, smokers cost $3,391 more a year for health care. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that tobacco smoke exposure costs $193 billion in health care expenses and lost productivity and contributes to 443,000 premature deaths each year.
UPHS is following in the footsteps of the Cleveland Clinic, which introduced the policy in 2007 and has successfully contributed to lower smoking rates in Cuyahoga County. Many others, including Humana and Massachusetts Hospital Association, have followed suit.
Wharton and Engineering sophomore Jeffrey Chudakoff, who worked at the Cleveland Clinic, believes that this policy is beneficial to all parties involved. “It ensures that health care providers do not expose patients or other related parties to secondhand smoke and also allows Penn Med to showcase itself in a very progressive light,” he said.
College sophomore Sofia Duque applauds the policy’s strategy to promote community health by starting with the system’s internal structure.
“This new program will not only prevent these effects from occurring at Penn Med, but it will also provide the resources necessary for community members to improve through free smoking cessation programs and counseling, providing them with a chance to improve their health and reapply to Penn Med,” she said.