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The Associated Press November 23, 2010, 12:00PM ET

Missouri hospital to stop hiring smokers

Starting next year, smokers need not apply for jobs at Saint Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau.

The hospital will no longer hire smokers as of Jan. 1, the Southeast Missourian newspaper reported. Applicants will be tested for nicotine as part of a pre-employment screening.

The hospital website's "Current Openings" page now includes the nicotine-free hiring policy. Those logging onto the employment site see this message:

"Because it is important for health care providers to promote a healthy environment and lifestyle, effective January 1, 2011, Saint Francis Medical Center has a nicotine-free hiring policy. Applicants will be tested for nicotine as part of a pre-employment screening.

"I understand that my application will not be considered if I use tobacco products."

The policy will not affect current employees, who will continue to be offered access to tobacco cessation programs and other incentives to stop smoking.

Dave Dillon, a spokesman for the Missouri Hospital Association, said he knows of only one other hospital in the state with a similar policy -- Truman Medical Center in Kansas City.

"It's likely that other hospitals will make other moves like this, if they haven't already," he said.

Truman Medical Center began the tobacco-free hiring policy at its two hospitals in 2006, spokesman Shane Kovac said. Truman's policy was modeled after the Cleveland Clinic, which Kovac said was the first health care provider in the nation to prohibit smokers from jobs.

Missouri labor law mandates that employers cannot refuse to hire or they cannot fire an employee for alcohol or tobacco use after working hours off company property. But Amy Susan, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, said not-for-profit hospitals and church-related organizations like Saint Francis are exempt.

Kovac said Truman has not had any legal challenges stemming from its non-smoking hiring policy.

"We have seen that initially (prospective employees) were upset, but then they realized what the upside is, the health of patients and staff," he said.

Nicotine-free hiring policies have been challenged in court. In a closely watched case in Massachusetts, a contingently-hired worker at Scotts LawnService was fired when his nicotine test came back positive. He sued in federal court in Massachusetts, but the court ruled that public policy favored a smoke-free society over an individual's right to smoke on his or her own time.

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