Smokers Need Not Apply

Deep in the heart of "tobacco country," smoking could bar some people from getting jobs.

Tennessee Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga began testing prospective employees this week for smoking. If the tests come back positive, their chances of being hired go up in smoke.

"It's relevant to creating that healthy lifestyle," Memorial Health Care Systems CEO James Hobson said. "It's relevant to the entire community."

The policy sends a message that the hospital takes the health of its own workers serious enough not to tolerate unhealthy habits, hospital administrators said. But the policy remains controversial.

"I feel like that Memorial should not dictate to us what we do in our own time, off the clock," nurse Kristi Edmondson said.

VIDEO:Smoking Could Stop People From Employment Play

But Memorial Hospital isn't the only place sparking the fiery debate. The smoker smack-down has spread across the country.

Employers from Alaska Airlines to Cleveland Clinic to the county of Sarasota, Fla., no longer hire smokers.

Celebrities are also supporting the ban. Memet Oz of the "Dr. Oz Show" takes a hard line against smoking, too. He refuses to operate on people who smoke.

"I'm a heart surgeon" the professor of surgery at Columbia University said. "I think operating on those who smoke, unless it's an emergency or a life-threatening situation, is, I think, unethical."

If a patient continues to smoke after surgery, he added, the entire operation could be for nothing.

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Opponents of the measure say it's a slippery slope that could lead to refusing to hire over-eaters or people with too many sexual partners, or something else related to unhealthy living.

Lewis Maltby, president of the nonprofit National Workrights Institute, said that policies such as the smoking ban are leading toward regulation by employers of their workers' private lives.

"We have seen cases that have nothing to do with smoking," Maltby said. "We had a would-be client who was fired for drinking on Saturday afternoon because his boss thought drinking was a sin."

Some States Resist the Crackdown

Some states have passed laws to stop such intrusions. Twenty-nine states have laws on the books that specifically protect smokers.

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Without those laws, Maltby said, employees lose a valuable protection. "Most people think they have a right to freedom of speech," he said. "They don' know that their freedom of speech disappears where their boss is concerned."

Employers argue that when it comes to smoking, the tough new policies are necessary, saying that the health issues are significant enough to warrant the attention.