If you’re not convinced that smoking exacts a high cost from your company, consider these sobering facts about tobacco use:
- It contributes to an extensive list of serious diseases, including cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, multiple cancers, emphysema and bronchitis; second-hand smoke contributes to pediatric illness.
- It costs at least $96 billion per year in direct medical expenses.
- It leads to an estimated $96.8 billion per year in lost productivity due to sickness and premature death.
The good news is that smoking rates continue to fall across the country — the percentage of U.S. adults who smoke cigarettes was 17.8 percent in 2013, down from 20.9 percent in 2005, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Still, it’s not surprising that employers list smoking prevention among their top three health priorities for employees (along with treating high blood pressure and obesity), according to a study by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH).
Not just any cessation program will do. To be successful, the Centers for Disease Control suggests tobacco cessation programs include:
- Four to six face-to-face counseling sessions of at least 30 minutes each;
- Both prescription and over-the-counter medications;
- At least two quit attempts each year;
- Communicating the availability of support programs.
With smoking cessation programs costing about $4 annually per employee, according to the NBGH, it’s hard to counter the economic benefits of such a program.
Employers can help employees who smoke by:
- Requesting or selecting health plans that cover effective treatment of smoking.
- Ensuring that health care providers (those in on-site medical clinics and health plan network providers) adhere to Health Employer Data Information Set (HEDIS) requirements. HEDIS measures whether providers screen all patients for smoking, counsel smokers to quit and recommend FDA approved medications.
- Designing or offering benefits that cover a variety of treatments.
- Allowing individuals to choose their preferred approach.
- Utilizing telephone counseling.
- Ensuring that smoking cessation counseling emphasizes problem-solving and social support to enhance the likelihood of abstinence.
- Removing fees, co-pays and other restrictions intended to limit use of benefits.
- Communicating to employees the types of cessation benefits that are covered under their health plans.
- Taking a long-term approach to smoking cessation and structuring benefits to support multiple quit attempts.
- Offering smoking cessation treatment to employees’ spouses and dependents.
- Promoting a healthy workplace that discourages smoking and values the well being of all employees.
- Instituting workplace bans on smoking to reduce tobacco use and protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke.
- Offering incentives to achieve and maintain healthy lifestyles.