No smoking: UPMC's new tobacco policy makes sense

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One of the more incongruous sights in life -- and one of the most disturbing -- is health-care workers outside medical property indulging in the health-destroying habit of smoking. UPMC plans to do something about it.

The region's largest health-care system has decided upon a new no-smoking policy, which will take effect next July, allowing staffers time to adjust. UPMC will still hire smokers, but it won't allow them to smoke during their shifts or breaks. The policy also bans the use of snuff, smokeless tobacco and electric cigarettes.

UPMC has had a workplace smoking ban since 2007, but what makes the new policy different is that everybody associated with the system -- including employees as well as medical students, volunteers and contractors -- will not be permitted to smoke at any time during their shifts, even if they have left on a lunch break away from the premises.

That intrusion on personal time raises concerns for some. As the Post-Gazette's Bill Toland reported, the fear is that a smoking ban away from the office might lead to other health-conscious restrictions imposed by employers -- say, bans on drinking alcohol or eating fatty foods on employees' own time. Indeed, 29 states plus the District of Columbia have "lifestyle protection" laws, but Pennsylvania is not one of them.

We'd argue that hospital systems like UPMC are a special case when they attempt to ban smoking, something that is much more in their power to help eradicate than other social ills. This Public Enemy No. 1 can be defeated by leadership -- and what better place than a medical system that takes its mission seriously? Far from imposing on its workers, we think UPMC is doing them a long-term favor.

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