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As hospitals around the nation are beginning to screen their job applicants for nicotine, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania has taken a stand against the practice.

Geisinger Health System’s hospital in Danville, Pa. announced Dec. 30 that they will begin screening for nicotine, in addition to illegal substances that include marijuana and cocaine.

They will only hire non-smokers to their payroll. If an applicant qualifies but tests positive for nicotine, then they will be deferred for six months to give them the chance to quit smoking. This initiative is intended to promote a culture of wellness.

Pennsylvania is one of 19 states that allows employers to screen job applicants for signs of smoking.

While HUP considered implementing such a program last February, they ultimately decided against it because they did not see it as an effective strategy.

Director of Penn’s smoking treatment programs Frank Leone said screening out smokers “underestimates the nature of the problem.”

“It’s born of a misconception,” he said. He explained that people tend to see smoking as a lifestyle choice, when it’s actually a disability that affects the smoker’s neurobiology.

He sees the screening as discriminatory and added that since applicants with diabetes and hypertension are not weeded out, it’s not a fair practice.

Leone also said companies tend to test for tobacco to save on insurance premiums, resulting in fewer members of lower socioeconomic groups receiving jobs and employment.

“I don’t advocate for policies along those lines,” Leone said, referring to the screenings. Instead, he believes that hospitals should encourage employees to quit smoking.

HUP spokesperson Susan Phillips agreed and explained that HUP tries to incentivize employees who use tobacco products to enroll in cessation programs. The hospital currently offers free programs and support to its employees, and, effective July 1, it will be offering employee health benefit premiums to non-tobacco users.

Geisinger spokesperson Marcy Marshall said their new policy is “a continued commitment to the health of our employees.”

“Smoking is the worst thing you can do to your body,” she added. “We want to encourage our employees and community to be healthy.”

Following in the footsteps of the Cleveland Clinic, which pioneered non-smoking initiatives, the policy is an extension of a rule instituted in 2007 that no one can smoke on the Danville hospital’s property.

Phillips has other misgivings with Geisinger’s approach. She is against nicotine testing because it “has been found not to be a reliable way of identifying smokers,” she wrote in an email.

Furthermore, she doesn’t believe smoking among employees poses a substantial problem for HUP. She said only 10 percent of employees use tobacco — much lower than that of Philadelphia’s overall population.

This article was changed to reflect that HUP will offer a discount on employee health benefit premiums in July, not on health care.

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