A growing number of employers in the U.S. are refusing to hire people who smoke. Some say it is discrimination and are now asking, what's next?
Tennessee Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga will not offer jobs to applicants who test positive for tobacco use and may be disqualified from reapplying for six months. The issue has become very controversial.
"It's relevant to creating that healthy lifestyle, and again it's relevant to the entire community," said James Hobson, CEO of Memorial Health Care Systems.
"Memorial should not dictate to us what we do in our own time, off the time clock," said Kristi Edmondson, a nurse and a smoker.
But the no-smoking policy is not just an issue in Tennessee. A growing number of companies across the country refuse to hire smokers.
Some call it discrimination and are arguing it could lead to refusals to hire over-eaters or people with too many sexual partners.
"That's the road we are going down," said Lewis Maltby, president of National Workrights Institute. "We have seen cases that have nothing to do with smoking. We had a would-be client who was fired for drinking on Saturday afternoon because his boss thought drinking was a sin."
Currently, 29 states have laws protecting smokers.
"Most people think they have a right to freedom of speech. They don't know that their freedom of speech disappears where their boss is concerned," Maltby added.
But with health care costs going up, even more employers may look at putting smokers on the need-not-apply list.
The no-smoking policy at Tennessee's Memorial Hospital does not apply to current employees -- only to those seeking employment there.