March 18 2013 12:00 AM

The hospital announces it will not hire smokers.

Friday, April 22 — Sparrow Health System will no longer hire smokers starting May 1.

The policy will apply to all applicants but will not affect current employees, Sparrow spokesman John Berg said.

“This is about the health and wellness of our community. This is about us taking a role around a habit that is very destructive,” Berg said. “Anyone who spends any amount of time in health care will see the impact of smoking on patients.”

Berg said Sparrow will prohibit anyone from being hired who tests positive for tobacco use of any sort. He said the type of testing to be done likely will not pick up on secondhand smoke.

Applicants may reapply in 90 days if they are rejected for smoking.

City Pulse reported Wednesday that Sparrow posted an announcement about the policy on its website but took it down. That announcement was up Monday, but was taken down by Tuesday.

“As I understand it, they were running a test on the website,” Berg said. “It was posted for a brief period of time as part of our preparations to announce (the policy).”

No-smoker policies are becoming more popular in hospitals. Berg said Sparrow had been “talking to” the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, which has a similar policy. Berg added that Sparrow had been considering the policy “for probably the last couple of months.”

When City Pulse interviewed a different Sparrow spokesman, John Foren, about six weeks ago, Foren said Sparrow was “familiar” with the fact that hospitals are looking at no-smoker hiring policies, but said Sparrow was focused on “various wellness efforts.”

While hospitals with such policies say they should be models of good health, opponents say banning tobacco use infringes on civil liberties. There is also the “slippery slope” argument.

In an interview with City Pulse in late February, Rana Elmir, a spokeswoman for the ACLU of Michigan, said employers not hiring someone for smoking “is a dangerous precedent.”

“Would the employer fire someone who takes too much caffeine? Eats too much chocolate? It’s the same thing,” she said.

Berg said that’s not where Sparrow is headed.

“Today, our policy is addressing nicotine. We’re addressing what we’re considering an issue that is addressable,” he said. “Our focus was very narrow — nicotine.”

Sparrow’s announcement also is featured on its YouTube page, where a pulmonologist — someone who studies respiratory diseases — explains the benefits of such a policy.

“Hospitals are the cornerstone of what should represent good healthy habits in our country,” Larry Rawsthorne said in the video. Rawsthorne is also senior vice president of medical affairs at Sparrow. “I’ve taken care of people who are dying of lung cancer. I’ve taken care of people who are dying from emphysema. I’ve also taken care of people with acute heart attacks. All those things are avoidable for many, many people if one never smokes or one quits smoking.”

The video is available here.