Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the world. The World Health Organization calls it the “biggest public health threat the world has ever faced,” due to the staggering number of people who succumb to tobacco-related deaths every year.
The good news is that approximately half of those who currently smoke would like to quit. Employers who are looking for a way to improve their employees’ lives, provide competitive wellness programs and reduce healthcare costs may consider implementing a smoking cessation program.
Of course, it’s your employees’ choice whether to try to quit smoking, and even those with the best intentions often fail on the first try. You may have employees who have tried to quit numerous times. A program centered on smoking cessation for employees may provide the added support and incentive they’ve been lacking.
The Landscape of Smoking and Health
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that, while the numbers have declined in the past decade, 13.7 percent of adults in the United States are current smokers. This means that they’ve smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lives and currently smoke at least once per day on average.
Not only is smoking cigarettes prevalent, but it’s also deadly. One in 5 deaths in the United States can be attributed to smoking. And this isn’t just a problem in the United States. The World Health Organization reports that 1.1 billion people are tobacco users, which means about one out of every seven people on this planet is addicted to nicotine.
E-cigarettes, a less toxic alternative to traditional cigarettes, were originally promoted to encourage a reduction in cigarette smoking. But it’s become evident that they carry their own risks. Beginning in June of 2019, emergency department visits related to e-cigarette use (vaping) began to rise. As of February 2020, 64 deaths attributed to vaping have been confirmed in the U.S.
Smoking and vaping are major public health concerns across the globe, costing our societies dearly in resources, and claiming far too many lives.
Impact of Employee Smoking Cessation
Employers stand to benefit by providing direct access to a smoking cessation program for employees.
Under the Affordable Care Act in the U.S., most health insurance providers and employers are required to cover smoking cessation programs at no cost to the employee. Providing a workplace program reduces the cost of covering various programs chosen by the employee or their healthcare provider. And offering your own program increases the likelihood of your employees utilizing this benefit. If a smoking cessation program is offered as part of a wellbeing program, employees will have access to social support, health coaches and incentives — all important motivators that may increase the likelihood that someone will quit for good.
It’s estimated that employers can save approximately $6,000 per employee who quits smoking, due to a decrease in the medical bills typically associated with smoking and other related expenses.
Additionally, helping an individual quit smoking improves their health and can enhance their overall wellbeing — leading to a cascade of other health benefits. Workplace smoking cessation programs may enable people to remain on the job rather than visiting doctors or calling in sick.
In some professions, such as nursing and teaching, quitting smoking helps improve the example your employees are setting for others.
Smoking Cessation Programs: What’s Working?
The American Cancer Society reports that only about 4 to 7 percent of people who want to quit smoking can do so without help. Help can come in the form of nicotine patches, prescription drugs and the like. Additionally, help can come from a supportive community or health coach. The best and most effective programs combine multiple approaches to cover the many difficulties involved in quitting smoking.
Effective workplace smoking cessation programs may include the following elements:
- Self-service information and resources that’s mobile-friendly and accessible on-the-go
- Expert advice on the use of patches, medications and other treatment options
- Community support
- Incentives for starting the journey to quit
- Health coaches to help set goals, make a plan and stick with it
What to Look for (and Avoid) in a Smoking Cessation Program for Employees
When seeking out a smoking cessation program, consider your workplace culture as well as programs or platforms you already have in place. An integrated approach will encourage the utilization of the program.
Employees are more likely to engage when there is an absence of shame or stigma surrounding the topic. It’s important to ensure that your program takes smoking seriously but is uplifting and encouraging. People may also be more likely to participate when their colleagues are participating in other employee wellness initiatives.
A good smoking cessation program will draw on the wealth of research that has been done on the topic. Telling someone to simply “quit because it’s good for you” is not enough. Quitting smoking requires new habits and a new lifestyle. The most helpful programs will use evidence-based techniques to guide people through habit change.
Things to look for:
- Long-term support for the employee (longer than 6 months) that addresses physical and mental health
- A combined approach toward quitting: expert advice, digital tools, community support and health coaching
- The ability to integrate a smoking cessation program into other wellbeing programs offered to employees
- Evidence-based programming
Things to avoid:
- A program that requires the purchase of its own pills, patches, or other products
- An emphasis on quick and easy change
- Programs that don’t use a holistic, whole-person approach to quitting
For a Healthier Workforce
Smoking cessation programs are not hard to implement, but they drastically ease the difficulty of quitting for the many who are willing to try. This leads to fewer medical bills, healthier employees and a stronger community. In a review of anonymized and aggregated Virgin Pulse data, we found that 30% of people enrolled in a tobacco cessation program who were working with a health coach were able to quit for good — which means they’re four times more likely to quit than if they tried on their own. And we like those odds.