Even if you ban smoking at work, nicotine-addicted employees will still manage to find a place to light up. And trying to hire only nonsmokers could create legal troubles.
So what’s the best way to cut your high health costs related to smokers? Actively help them quit.
Employers’ smoking-cessation efforts can cut health care expenditures per quitter by $2,146 over a four-year period, estimates the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And productivity gains—which are immediate once the smoker stops taking cigarette breaks and smoking-related sick days—average $1,503 in the first year.
Smoking cessation: 3 case studies
At L-3 Communication’s 1,200-employee East division, the medical director teamed up with the pharmacy benefits manager and the on-site fitness center to craft a plan to help employees stop smoking without gaining weight.
Smokers who enrolled in a smoking-cessation program received information about quitting, access to telephone and in-person counselors, free gym memberships and prescriptions for their choice of discounted nicotine replacement gum, patches or pills. They were paired with nonsmoking “buddies,” who already had kicked the habit. Nine of the 33 participants quit smoking.
The American Cancer Society estimates that about 2.5 percent of smokers quit each year on their own, but the number jumps to between 20 and 40 percent when they enroll in an organized smoking-cessation program. Most smokers try to quit four to six times before successfully sticking to it.
When Marriott banned smoking in its guest rooms and work areas, it offered a free anti-smoking program to all employees and their dependents who participated in a medical plan.
Marriott also partners with the American Cancer Society to run a 24-hour telephone “quitline” and pays for two eight-week courses of non-prescription nicotine replacement therapy a year as parts of the program.
Food distributor Sysco supplies nicotine patches to employees who want to quit smoking. And to quitters who remain tobacco-free for six months, it pays $25 for each year they’ve worked for the company.
Effective programs: 8 tips
To make your organization’s smoking-cessation program more effective:
- Subsidize prescription medicines or over-the-counter cessation aids.
- Extend the subsidies to employees’ spouses. (A spouse’s cigarettes are tempting to an employee who is trying to quit.)
- Make the program voluntary. Smokers won’t quit until they are ready.
- Allow smokers to re-enroll in the program no matter how many times they fail to quit. Smoking is an addiction with a high rate of relapse.
- Don’t expect everyone to quit on the first try. Even a handful of successful quitters will make a dent in your health care claims.
- Offer counseling through your or the American Cancer Society, so smokers can get help whenever they have a craving.
- Make the program ongoing so smokers can join whenever they’re ready.
- Advertise the program by fastening flyers and brochures to ashtrays in your building’s designated smoking areas.
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