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Resolved: Help staff quit smoking this year

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in Centerpiece,Employee Benefits Program,Human Resources

no smoking signIt’s been a month since many of your employees made New Year’s resolutions to quit smoking in 2013. Are they sticking to their plans?

The fact is, you should know. Plenty of evidence reveals that an employer can play a big role in helping employees snuff out their last cigarettes.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 70% of smokers want to quit. But breaking a bad habit is hard to do, especially for someone who tries to do it alone.

If your organization isn’t trying to help employees quit smoking—or if you have a smoking-cessation program but aren’t aggressive about pushing it—get moving now, while employees are committed to living healthier.

Your effort will help the company as much as it helps smoking employees. The CDC estimates that organizations lose a collective $96.8 billion per year in productivity because of smoking-related illnesses and premature deaths. The CDC calls workplace smoking-cessation programs “the gold standard of health care cost-effectiveness.”

3 keys to success

Here are the key components of an effec­tive workplace stop-smoking program:

1. Ban smoking at work. Even if your state or city hasn’t outlawed smoking in the workplace, banish tobacco from your premises—even outside. That gives smokers fewer chances to smoke. Plus, studies show that nonsmokers are less likely to pick up the habit if they witness fewer people lighting up.

2. Identify potential participants. Before beginning a smoking-cessation program, determine how many employees need it and how receptive smokers might be to a workplace effort to help them quit.

Best way: Ask them. Conduct a survey asking employees if they smoke, if they want to stop and how they would like the organization to help them.

3. Use multiple tactics. The most effective programs form support groups of smokers who are trying to quit. Then they layer on classes, clinics or telephone “quitlines” that offer advice and information from medical professionals. Finally, health insurance pays for nicotine replacement patches and medicine.

Tip: Because smokers are at greater risk for respiratory infections, offering free flu shots at the workplace is an especially important benefit for them.

The insurance connection

At the center of the effort, public health advocates agree, is a health insurance plan that covers treatment for smokers and other tobacco users.

Yet despite a requirement of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) sweeping health insurance reforms, many plans do not pay for smoking cessation counseling or over-the-counter and prescription medications that could help people kick the habit.

Two recent studies blame too little government guidance for the lack of compliance with the ACA, which requires group health plans and health insurers to cover preventive health services—like diabetes screenings and tobacco-cessation programs—without any cost-sharing, like co-payments or deductibles.

And they say language about the programs in health plans is confusing and vague, so employees and even administrators often don’t understand the benefit, making smokers reluctant to seek treatment.

In a Georgetown University examination of 36 health plans that indicated they offer coverage for tobacco cessation, 26 of them also included language saying they don’t cover the programs. Just four of them explicitly said they covered counseling and medicine. Eleven required employees to share the cost of counseling or medicine.

The study’s authors called for reg-ulators to require insurance policies to clearly state that tobacco cessation treatment is a covered benefit and urged the government provide clear model contract language.

A separate report by the American Lung Association found that the coverage is inconsistent from state to state. The organization urges the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to “officially define a comprehensive tobacco cessation benefit.”

A model benefit

Uncle Sam’s own employees can tap robust smoking-cessation benefits. Since 2011, insurance plans that are part of the Federal Employee Health Benefit (FEHB) program have had to cover:

  • Four telephone, group or individual counseling sessions of 30 minutes or more for federal employees and family members who are trying to quit. The coverage is good for at least two quit attempts per year.
  • Food and Drug Administration-approved tobacco cessation medications prescribed by a doctor—without no co-pays, co-insurance or deductibles.

Advice: Many public health advocates say the FEHB model is an effective foundation for a workplace stop-smoking program. Examine your organization’s health plans to determine whether they include similar, comprehensive, no-cost coverage for your employees who want to quit.

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