The health effects of smoking cost the U.S. economy some $300 billion annually in medical costs and lost productivity. Smokers cost their employers in the neighborhood of $3,400 to $6,000 a year, between extra sick days, more frequent distracting breaks, and direct medical costs. Those medical costs show up as higher insurance premiums. Some employers pass those elevated costs onto their smoker employees—although as we will see that practice is mired with potential legal pitfalls.
But, encouraging your employees to quit smoking is about more than just dollars and cents. Smoking hurts your employees’ health—that’s why it’s so costly—and you care about your employees. Everyone wants to see the smokers in their lives quit; nearly 70% of smokers report wanting to quit themselves. In this article we’ll go over some of the strategies you can implement to help encourage your employees to quit smoking, improving their health and help your bottom line along the way.
Health insurance costs more for employees who smoke, so it makes sense for employers to expect them to cover the extra cost attributable to their choice to smoke. Some 18% of employers impose smoking surcharges in their insurance premiums, which average more than $750 per year. Quit smoking, save money: easy incentive, right?
If only it were so simple. The “choice” to smoke is complicated by addiction, making it an adverse health factor according to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). That means an employer who imposes a surcharge on smokers must provide a reasonable alternative that would enable the smoker to access the lower premium available to non-smokers. In practice, that alternative typically takes the form of an employer-sponsored tobacco cessation program.
Tobacco cessation treatment is a “preventive service,” a class of medical services that the Affordable Care Act requires insurance to cover. Programs to help employees quit smoking can comprise a wide range of services, including:
- Education: Provide information on the health risks of smoking and the services available to help employees quit.
- Counseling: Support groups and individual coaching offer encouragement and strategies for successfully quitting.
- Pharmaceutical assistance: Nicotine patches or gum can help wean a smoker off the addiction to tobacco, and prescription medication exists that helps with withdrawal symptoms.
Any cessation program should support employees beyond just their time at work, encompassing family, community partners, and communication technology. If all this sounds like a lot, the wellness experts at Work-Fit can provide a program that helps your employees quit smoking and fits your organization.
If a tobacco cessation program is offered in conjunction with a smoking surcharge to health insurance, to comply with HIPAA it must be a participatory program. That means an employee who participates in the treatment avoids the surcharge, even if they don’t quit smoking because of it.
Another highly cost-effective approach is to provide direct financial incentives to employees if they quit smoking. Multiple recent studies have found that providing cash payments to employees if they successfully quit—together with traditional cessation support—triples the success rate. If the employee contributes their own money toward their “quit smoking award”—taking advantage of concepts of loss aversion from behavioral economics—the program can be even more effective. Paying employees to quit smoking may sound expensive, but compared to the annual cost of smoking it’s a bargain.
Work-Fit can help
Whatever form your efforts to help your employees quit smoking take—higher health insurance premiums, cessation treatment programs, cash rewards, or a combination—they should be part of a comprehensive wellness program. Contact the workplace health and wellness experts at Work-Fit. We would love to help your employees quit smoking once and for all.