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Tobacco Cessation: 5 steps toward a healthier workforce and bottom line

Tobacco Cessation 2

By Sue Blankenhagen, Wellness Program Specialist, Ceridian LifeWorks

Let’s look at Joe. Joe has been a regular smoker for the past 10 years. During an 8-hour work day, he takes five 15-minute breaks, three of which take place during sanctioned break times. The economic impact (on average) of a tobacco user like Joe on the organization is huge.

His habit costs the company a total of $5,800 a year. Let me break it down:

  • $3,000 of this cost is due to lost productivity when Joe takes his smoke breaks.
  • $1840 is the increased cost of his health care
  • His smoking causes him to take more sick days than the average worker, which costs the company $500
  • When Joe is at his desk, he costs the company $460 in lost productivity due to withdrawal symptoms that start to kick in only 30 minutes after his last smoke break.

Outside of all the impact to your bottom line, let’s look at the social impact:

  • Does Joe work with the public? Is he a healthcare provider? If so, how does the patient or customer feel, when they can smell cigarette smoke on him?
  • How do his actions reflect on your business?
  • How far does Joe have to go to have a smoke break? Is it a smoke-free campus? Is there a designated smoking area? Does he stand outside an external door, where customers pass by?
  • How long does it take Joe to get back into the swing of things, after returning from his break?
  • How do his co-workers feel, when they see Joe leave for a smoke break? Are they bothered by the smell of smoke?

I was host on the recent Ceridian-sponsored webinar on this topic, “Tobacco Cessation: Boosting Health and Productivity at Work.” The goal was to help organizations motivate their employees to improve their health and stop smoking by developing a tobacco cessation program or improving upon an existing program.

This is a hugely important issue in America today. Although the risks of tobacco use are widely known, 51 million Americans still smoke or use tobacco products and 16 million are living with a disease caused by tobacco. Every year, 480,000 tobacco users die. In addition, $170 billion is spent each year in medical care to treat smoking-related illnesses.

While smoking cessation programs are not new, they have expanded beyond simply covering the health care costs. The goal now is to get people to quit before they begin endangering their lives and running up prohibitive medical bills – and the following five steps will help turn that goal into a reality for your organization.

Classifying tobacco users
Not all tobacco users are created equal. Some simply smoke cigarettes, while others use pipes, cigars, or other smokeless forms of tobacco. Some use large volumes every day, while others are more in moderation. Begin by knowing what types of users you’re dealing with in your workplace so that it is clear to everyone who is eligible to participate in the program and potentially earn whatever incentive is offered.

Incentivizing people to quit
If you want people to start quitting, you need to give them some motivation. According to a Fidelity and National Business Group survey, 86 percent of employers are offering wellness-based incentives in 2015. You may need to do the same. The ACA has parameters for Wellness Incentives that I went over in the webinar. If you missed it, have a look at our wrap-up tweets or read Ceridian’s eBook dedicated to wellness incentives.

Aspiring to a tobacco-free workplace
What you may want to consider is turning your office into a tobacco-free workplace. This would offer numerous benefits – it would motivate people to quit, create a healthier environment and eliminate the ambiguity around tobacco use at work. Can you pull it off?

Providing valuable resources
If you really care about your employees quitting tobacco, you should invest in resources that can help them do it, such as building an EAP that offers them one-on-one health coaching.

Measuring your success
As you go about choosing a tobacco cessation vendor, ask what success metrics they use to demonstrate how your organization is doing. Do they monitor changes in productivity, medical costs, sick days etc?

Sue BlankenhagenSue Blankenhagen is a Wellness Program Specialist for Ceridian LifeWorks. With more than 20 years of experience with worksite wellness, community health education and health promotion, she understands what it takes to help employees find their motivation. Sue is a Certified Wellness Coach™ with a bachelor’s degree in General Dietetics from Madonna University in Michigan.

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