UPMC snuffs out smoking under new employee policy

Policy bans all tobacco use during shift

UPMC says it isn’‍‍‍t blowing smoke with a new policy banning all personnel — volunteers, contractors, students, medical and support staff — from using tobacco products throughout their shifts, on and off all UPMC properties.

The policy went into effect Tuesday, a year after the initial announcement, to help ease the transition for tobacco users.

“We understand the difficulty of quitting, despite a desire of many of our employees to do so,” Hilary Tindle, UPMC smoking cessation expert, said in a statement.

During the past year, UPMC put into place online support systems, nicotine replacement products and help for workers willing to make an early commitment to limiting or ending their tobacco use.

Six months after announcing the ban, UPMC saw a doubling in the number of people who typically enroll per month in its Ready to Quit health coaching program. Timothy Cline, senior director of clinical training and development for UPMC Health Plan, said UPMC’s 62,000-person staff reported a decline in tobacco use from 18 percent in 2005 to 9.8 percent in 2013.

“By reducing exposure to tobacco products, we can help make the UPMC experience to be a positive one,” Greg Peaslee, executive vice president and chief human resources officer, said in a statement Tuesday,

Tobacco use will be monitored and regulated through an honor system, Mr. Cline said. Managers will warn their staff if they smell tobacco on clothing. They will report repeat offenders who “will be handled in the same way as anyone else who is not in compliance with a human resources policy.”

The rule expands one from 2007, when UPMC banned smoking on all of its properties.

Current tobacco users seeking employment with UPMC need not fear, as the new policy does not ban them from a job there; they just need to comply with the rules on their start date.

“We would rather hire otherwise employable members of the community and support them in quitting smoking as opposed to shutting the door on employment,” said Mr. Cline. “Many other large integrated health care systems, like Cleveland Clinic and Geisinger [in central and northeastern Pennsylvania] have simply stopped hiring smokers.”

At the opposite end of the spectrum, some states have laws in place that would make the new UPMC ban illegal. “Lifestyle discrimination” laws in 29 states outlaw away-from-work policies and discrimination against smokers.

Campbell North: cnorth@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1613.

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