Smoking-related illnesses claim the lives of more than 480,000 a year people in the U.S. And this lethal habit is hard to kick without help. Only 4% of smokers who try to quit tobacco without support do so successfully. Their chances of quitting for good more than double when they have professional help and proven cessation methods.
This makes smoking cessation programs a powerful way to improve employee health, and one where everyone benefits. Not only can tobacco control programs improve an individual’s health, this change can benefit their employer — employees who don’t smoke miss fewer days of work and are more productive than employees who do.
Despite all of these advantages, only 34% of employers offer smoking cessation programs. If you want to set your company apart by offering this uncommon and powerful program, here’s what you need to know.
The Dangers and Risks of Workplace Smoking
When employees smoke at work, they’re not only putting their health at risk — they’re impacting coworkers’ health too. Secondhand smoke (SHS) contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including approximately 70 that can cause cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. SHS is linked to many medical conditions and concerns, including reproductive complications, nasal irritation, stroke, and heart disease.
In addition to health risks, cigarette smoking can decrease workplace productivity. Tobacco smokers take more breaks than non-smokers and miss more work days due to illnesses. These absences add up: Productivity losses due to employee smoking in the U.S. are estimated to be up to $151 billion yearly.
All those factors add up to an excess cost of around $6,000 a year to employ a smoker as compared to a non-smoker, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
How Do Smoking Cessation Programs Work?
Workplace smoking cessation programs help workers understand the benefits of quitting and how to stop — or at least reduce — their use of cigarettes and cigars. They also offer coping skills that help employees stay on track when they want to resume smoking.
Employers can provide smoking cessation and wellness programs as part of their health insurance plans. Some organizations also offer rewards — typically financial incentives — for participating, but we’ll focus here on smoking cessation programs included in an insurance package.
Smoking Cessation Programs for Employers
Smoking cessation programs are not one-size-fits-all. There are several ways to tackle nicotine dependency, so your smoking program could include:
- Evidence-based seminars
- One-on-one counseling
- Support groups
- Medications like nicotine patches or gums
Since many smokers benefit from the added assurance of professional help, a smoking cessation program that includes coaching health services is often recommended.
How Much Does a Smoking Cessation Program Cost
The short answer is: It depends. For every dollar the U.S. states spend in total providing cigarette cessation services, the potential return on investment (ROI) is $1.26, according to the American Lung Association.
Typically, comprehensive coverage — including therapy and medication — costs up to $0.45 per health plan member per month, according to SHRM.
No matter the costs, research shows again and again that smoking cessation programs pay. When employees quit or reduce tobacco use, they save employers money through reduced absenteeism and presenteeism, increased output, and fewer smoking-related medical needs (e.g., reducing high blood pressure caused by cigarettes or lung cancer treatments).
Smoking cessation programs have federal support: the Affordable Care Act (ACA), along with other rules and national laws, require most healthcare providers in the U.S. to offer coverage for at least some level of smoking cessation treatments.
At the state level, the CDC recommends insurers and employers spend around 12% of the total tobacco taxes and tobacco-related court settlements on smoking cessation (vaping is not included). No states currently reach this recommendation. Only three — Alaska, California, and Maine — come close, allotting 70% of their state’s tobacco-related money to cessation programs. And a whopping 28 states and Washington D.C. spend less than 20% of the CDC’s recommendation.
How does this impact you? Employers say that 73% of their workforce suffers from burnout, stress, and mental health issues as their top challenges, according to Willis Towers Watson’s Benefit Trends Survey. And when companies support programs designed to help manage stress but don’t provide support to help employees quit smoking, there’s a disconnect. Tobacco use can not only affect physical health, but mental health too. So if you want to provide a holistic, well-rounded benefits package to your employees, consider including tobacco cessation programs.
How to Evaluate Smoking Cessation Programs
The success of a smoking cessation program typically depends on its intensity and use of multiple strategies, according to the CDC. Implementing multiple approaches at once, such as pairing a buddy system nicotine replacement therapy, is generally more effective.
The first step in any measurement or evaluation of a program is to establish a baseline. Start by determining your employees’ level of tobacco use. This can be done by administering a health survey, but it’s important to remember that not all people who use tobacco products will self-identify as “smokers”. Your survey can be structured to ask about consumption habits that help you identify the following:
- The number of your employees who currently smoke tobacco.
- The number of employees who use smokeless tobacco products.
- The number of workers who are exposed to secondhand smoke daily.
- The amount of absenteeism in your workplace.
Employee sentiment about smoking will also factor into how you structure your program. You assess how your employees feel about their own tobacco use by asking in your survey questions designed to assess:
- The number of workers who currently smoke or use tobacco products but are considering quitting or have stated they want to quit.
- Employees’ awareness of workplace smoking cessation programs for employers.
You can complement this survey with biometric assessments that help establish the percentage of your workforce with conditions that increase the risks of tobacco use (i.e., heart disease, stroke, cancer, etc.).
To assess the success of your program, you can issue additional surveys during and after the program to evaluate:
- The frequency or duration of exposure to secondhand smoke among all employees.
- The number of quit attempts made.
- The number of workers who stay tobacco-free for six months or more.
You can repeat this same survey periodically to track the results over time.
Smoking Cessation Benefits Both Employees and Employers
Cigarette use causes about one in every five deaths in the U.S. annually, making it a vital public health problem to address. Implementing a smoking cessation program in your workplace has undeniable benefits, ranging from financial savings to improved productivity to potentially saving lives by helping your employees stop smoking.
Need help finding a program that helps employees improve their health across the board? Speak to a Gympass wellbeing specialist today and give your employees access to a robust roster of wellbeing activities!
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The Gympass Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.