By this time next month, all three of Chattanooga's hospitals will have kicked the tobacco habit.
Erlanger Health System announced Monday that it would become a completely tobacco-free campus come November.
"As a health care provider, we should lead by example," said Erlanger CEO Kevin Spiegel. "We need to set the standard for our community."
The use of all tobacco products will be prohibited within three blocks of Erlanger campuses, physician practices, medical facilities, parking lots and even inside vehicles parked onsite.
Erlanger also is working toward making its health insurance premiums higher for employees who use tobacco, and hopes to institute a policy where the hospital will no longer hire tobacco users, officials said.
"While we are encouraging our patients to make healthy decisions ... it is only fitting that our employees, volunteers, physicians, vendors and contractors also take the necessary steps to make it a healthy and safe working environment," said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jim. Creel.
Erlanger's ban comes after both Memorial Health Care System and Parkridge Health System made their campuses tobacco-free. Memorial also no longer hires smokers.
But as Hamilton County's fourth-largest employer, Erlanger's move is a significant development in a growing number of local employers who are moving to tobacco-free policies as a way to curb insurance costs, said Kevin Lusk, chairman of the Tobacco Free Chattanooga coalition.
"We actually had a coalition meeting today, and everyone was thrilled at the news," Lusk said. "For Erlanger -- a leading employer and a one of the leading health care providers -- to take such a significant step for the well being their employees and the patients they treat is a tremendous reason for acknowledgment," he said.
Lusk said while creating designated "tobacco areas" -- like Erlanger did in 2009 -- is a step, only a full ban removes the threat of second-hand smoke.
The policy will take effect Nov. 21, during the "Great American Smokeout" -- an awareness event promoted by the American Cancer Society.
To help employees quit tobacco, Erlanger is offering a free cessation program, and offer prescriptions and treatment to both employees and patients coping with addiction.
Spiegel said the hospital also plans to warn local college students that the hospital will not employ smokers.
"In doing so, I believe our actions will improve the health status of the community," he said.
Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6673.