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CoxHealth To Stop Hiring Smokers, Tobacco Users

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- In a big move by a major Springfield employer, CoxHealth says this fall it will no longer hire people who use tobacco products in any form.
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- In a  big move by a major Springfield employer, CoxHealth says this fall it will no longer hire people who use tobacco products in any form. This is a move that's been made by health systems in Missouri and across the nation.

CoxHealth says they hire about 1500 people each year and that estimate 17-20 percent are tobaccos users. Their CEO says they could not reconcile being dedicated to health without taking an assertive stance on tobacco. While some applaud the move, others do not think it is fair.

On a campus that went smoke free in 2006, CoxHealth announced their future employees will be too.

"Beginning on November twenty-first the day of the Great American Smoke Out CoxHealth will no longer hire people that use tobacco products," says CoxHealth President and CEO Steve Edwards.

Cox applicants will be required to take a urine test that detects nicotine, but, even if the person test positive, they still have chance. Edwards says this policy makes CoxHealth different from other hospital systems that have a no employee smoking policies.

"The specific difference is that we allow the person to reapply in 90 days and we allow free smoking cessation programs for them," says Edwards.

New hires will then be periodically tested. A positive test means may have a negative consequence.

"You would risk losing your job," says Edwards.

Edwards also says their decision is protected by law.

"The State of Missouri has a statute, 290.145, that specifically allows healthcare organizations to have policies like this so we are actually protected by law to do this, not every state has that law," says Edwards. 

Jessica Williams is an OTC student getting ready to enter the healthcare industry. Williams says she sees both sides. The rule would not keep her out of work.

"Not me because I don't smoke but I have friends and family that smoke and I don't think it's fair for them not to be able to get the same job I can get because they smoke," says Williams. "It makes sense if they are not going to hire people if they smoke because they want to help them out with their health but I mean, realistically, I think it's kind of like segregating them."

Williams also said if they start this kind of training she's not sure where it will stop.

"Oh, I am not going to hire you because you're a smoker, but what about if people drink? Are you not going to hire them?" says Williams.

Current employees are exempt from the new rule, but the system is still making a push to help them stop too with programs and incentives.

"Our employee smoking rate has hovered between 15 and 20 percent for many years, until it's zero we are a failure" says Edwards.

The health system will be offering current CoxHealth employees free cessation classes as well as incentives to quit before the November 21 deadline. CoxHealth estimates it will spend about $5,000 a year on testing.

Some smokers say they think they should be judged on their qualifications not their personal habits.

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