COLUMBIA — The MU Health Care system will no longer hire nicotine users, starting Jan. 1.

Current employees of MU Health Care will not be affected by the new policy, Mary Jenkins, Public Relations Manager of MU Health Care, said.

Applicants for jobs will be asked if they use nicotine products at the beginning of their application process. Only if they answer “no” will the application process proceed. If they say “yes,” they cannot apply at that time, but can re-apply after 90 days. They will also be provided resources which can help them kick the tobacco habit, Jenkins said.

All new employees must take drug screening tests. The screening is a one-time thing and will not be a continuous process. This raises questions about how MU Health Care would deal with employees who start or resume smoking after being hired.

“If we become aware that employees hired under this new policy are using nicotine products, we have the capacity to do additional screenings,” Jenkins said. MU Health Care screens new employees for a range of drugs, including narcotics, she said. Nicotine would be added to the list of screened substances, she said.

Kevin Everett, associate professor in Family and Community Medicine at MU, said urine, blood and saliva tests are commonly used to detect nicotine use. These tests could detect nicotine one to two weeks after the last use, he said, but added that the time period varies from person to person.  

Everett said he supported the initiative as a doctor.

"We encourage our patients and their families to quit the use of tobacco products, and this is an extension of that philosophy," he said.

Boone Hospital Center has a similar policy of not hiring people who smoke tobacco or use nicotine in any form, according to its website.

“BJC strives to improve the health and well-being of our employees, patients and community. As part of this commitment, we do not hire employees who use tobacco or nicotine,” the website states.

Dan Viets, president of the Missouri Civil Liberties Association, said he thinks the new policy is a mistake. He said he agrees that tobacco is a potentially dangerous substance, but he doesn't think the university as an employer has a right to dictate what its employees do in their private lives.

“It's none of their business,” he said.

“Are they going to stop hiring people who skydive or play football, both of which could cause serious injuries and harm the health of those employees?” he asked. Viets said he supported the promotion of healthy behaviors “through education, not through intimidation and discrimination.”

MU Health Care does not charge applicants for the drug screenings, Jenkins said.

“This is a great first step towards promoting wellness and health,” she added, since “tobacco use is the single largest cause of preventable death in the United States."

Supervising editor is Bailey Otto.

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