Wow, if this isn’t a sign of the times then I don’t know what is!! A Pennsylvania hospital is expected to begin screening job applicants for signs of nicotine early next year, claiming it will not hire smokers. Read more after the jump!

Wendy L.

(CNN)–Geisinger Health System — a facility located in the eastern town of Danville — will institute its no-nicotine policy on February 1, 2012, said Marcy Marshall.

Applicants that test positive will be offered help to quit and are encouraged to re-apply after six months, she said.

Smoking has been banned on Geisinger hospital grounds since 2007, added Marshall, who said the new program is part of a plan to make the hospital staff smoke free.

Secondhand smoke, she noted, will not result in a positive test.

Pennsylvania is one of 19 states that allow employers to screen job applicants for signs of smoking, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

The plan, which costs about $47,000 per year, is not retroactive and therefore protects existing employees from the rigors of the new policy.

Its purpose, said Marshall, is to increase the wellness of future employees — and it mirrors a similar 2007 program developed at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

“We wanted to create a culture of wellness, and the testing was just a part of the overall mission,” said Dr. Paul Terpeluk, Medical Director of Employee Health Services in Cleveland.

Applicants who test positive for nicotine can reapply after 90 days, he said.

For some, the policy has encouraged behavioral changes.

“I told them I wanted to quit the right way,” said Cleveland Clinic receptionist Marti Auner, who had said she smoked regularly for about 15 years. “I wanted to finish my patches, and they held a job for me for a month.”

Auner said she hasn’t smoked since.

Gary Burtless, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, said the measures are commonly adopted to reduce future health-care costs.

He said “there is no denying” the subsequent drop in cost, pointing to a 2003 study that revealed a range of between $500-$2,200 in additional annual medical expenses for smokers when compared to non-smokers.

Dr. Steven Bernstein, a professor at Yale University, added that smokers are also likely to take breaks more often, reducing hours worked.