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New policy bans smoking for new Public Health hires

by Krystal Paco

Guam - One person on Guam dies every day as a result of smoking-related diseases. That, along with $54 million a year, local taxpayers fork out for tobacco-related healthcare has led the Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services to implement a new policy for all new hires.

Effective immediately, all new hires at the agency must be non-smokers.

Director Jim Gillan says this may be new for Guam, but it's popular among hospitals and other health related workplaces throughout the nation. "Why make that a policy for hiring in Public Health? I think we have to be the ones that start this. If we're going to talk to people about taking care of themselves and being healthy if this is what we can call a preventable battle. we can actually win this we can win this one just by not having people not smoke," he said.

And although leading by example is the mantra at Public Health, Department of Administration acting personnel services administrator Shane Ngata says it's not going to be easy to implement as DOA only administers a merit system based on education and experience when looking at applicants. "We've never seen it in GovGuam not to say it's a bad thing. I understand the intent of Public Health and where they're trying to go, and so it's just a little bit difficult to administer on our end of the house," he said.

"We don't look at factors like smoking, drinking, lifestyle type habits that they have as part of the merit system," he said.

But what if the most qualified applicant is a smoker and how to enforce such a policy? Gillan says much like employers require a police and court clearance, applicants must submit nicotine test results. "If you want to smoke, that's your right. Absolutely. But I don't have to hire you," he said.

Gillan welcomes anyone who challenges his agency's new policy as there are non-smoking advocates around the island ready to support him, saying, "Bring it on. We'll test it."

For Public Health employees that already smoke, Gillan says they've been grandfathered in, but are highly encouraged to quit as there are support services, including a 1-800 quitline, also available to the public.

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