Hospitals Expand Worker Smoking Restrictions

August 16, 2011 ( – Some health care employers are extending their smoke-free policies to regulate smoking during breaks and the smell of smoke on employees.

The Indianapolis Star Tribune reports that beginning August 22, workers at Indiana University Health’s downtown hospitals will not be allowed to smoke or use smokeless tobacco products during their work days. IU Health’s campuses have been smoke-free since 2005, but with research pointing to the dangers of so-called third-hand smoke — tobacco contaminants that remain on smokers’ bodies — the hospital system strengthened the policy.  

The news report explained that third-hand smoke refers to that smell that clings to smokers’ clothes and hair long after they have taken their last puff. Research shows that the nasty odor comes with about 250 toxins, which are hazardous to all nonsmokers, particularly infants and children. The more a person smokes, the more the toxins accumulate. The hospital said those who smoke during the work day can pass those toxins on to their patients.  

According to the Star Tribune, Indiana’s Wishard Health Services and Franciscan St. Francis Health say employees can’t smell of smoke, but they can smoke off-campus during work hours. Wishard employees who smell of smoke are asked to change clothes or take other steps to get rid of the odor, Wishard spokesman Todd Harper said. Employees who don’t abide by the policy could lose their jobs; so far, some employees have been disciplined but none terminated.  

In addition, Franciscan Health System in Tacoma, Washington, started pre-employment testing in March. The policy doesn’t affect current workers, who can’t smoke on campus or in the line of sight of hospital buildings.  

Employers around the country are also targeting smokers. Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport, Massachusetts, has begun testing prospective employees for nicotine use (see MA Hospital Screens for Nicotine Use). A Maryland nonprofit has adopted a tobacco-free policy and has recently stopped hiring tobacco users (see MD Nonprofit Won’t Hire Tobacco Users). University of Southern Alabama employees who smoke will pay more for health care benefits starting next year (see University in Alabama to Penalize Workers Who Smoke).