More companies shut out workers who smoke

Employees who smoke are fast becoming an endangered species as companies ban smoking on all corporate grounds, including parking and other outdoor areas where smokers were once allowed to gather.

It's a radical change from just a decade ago, when smoking was tolerated even if frowned upon. But now being a smoker on the job can even risk your job as more companies pass policies banning the hiring of smokers. What some employers are doing:

•On July 4, Rex Healthcare and several other hospitals in the Raleigh, N.C., region announced that their hospital campuses were implementing a completely tobacco-free policy — a bold move because tobacco is a cash crop in the state. The policy bans smoking on all campuses, but the hospitals are offering cessation programs as well as other assistance for smokers.

•L-3 Communications' division in Camden, N.J., last year implemented a smoke-free policy that bans employees from smoking within 25 feet of the building. The company also developed a smoking-cessation program with hypnosis, discounts on cessation aids such as the nicotine patch and gum, as well as on-site counseling to monitor employees' cessation programs. The defense contractor has had 10 employees who successfully quit smoking.

L-3 facilities supervisor Gerald Rugletic, 60, a 50-year smoker, has quit smoking for 10 months through his company's support. "It helped sway me to quit smoking," he says. "I think it's good they're banning it outside."

•As an employer and health care system, the Cleveland Clinic recently announced a no-smoking policy that will begin Sept. 1. That includes outside the buildings. One enterprising resident near the clinic lets employees smoke in his yard for $1.

The not-for-profit multispecialty academic medical center will begin screening potential employees for nicotine as a part of the standard health and wellness screening during their preplacement physical exam. An applicant who tests positive through the urine test will not be considered for employment until he or she has quit for two weeks. Current employees who smoke will not be fired.

•Software company SAS banned tobacco in July in all company leased or owned vehicles and buildings in the USA. That means no smoking is allowed on the 900-acre campus in Cary, N.C., either inside or outside the buildings. Those caught smoking are reminded of the policy on the first offense.

Some smokers say there are benefits to smoking, however, and wonder if anti-smoking policies are going too far.

"I'm the only smoker at my current office, which has resulted in me cutting down my smoking significantly. Responses I've received from most of my co-workers (include) anything from 'tsk tsk' to lectures on how smoking is bad for you," writes Zoey Farooq in an e-mail. The 30-year-old Boston resident works in marketing.

"In my previous company," she writes, "I had one to two co-workers who smoked, and it really helped us bond (and take breaks from work)."