According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco use costs $96 billion per year in direct medical expenses and an additional $96.8 billion in lost productivity due to illness or medical disabilities. Second-hand smoke can be just as hazardous to those who breathe it. Company-sponsored programs to help employees and their spouses quit smoking promote the health of everyone.
An employer has a legal right to ban smoking on company property, at off-site company events and in company-owned vehicles. Beyond that, the law gets cloudy if you are planning a smoking cessation program. You will need to consult an attorney who is familiar with your state's laws. Twenty-nine states have laws that prevent employers from interfering with a smoker's right to smoke on his own time. Even though that employee's habit may be driving up the cost of your group health plan, you may not have the right to fire him because of it.
Setting Up the Program
Implementing a smoking cessation program should be done with a well-designed plan that is approved and fully supported by the company's owner or senior management. Many firms allow four to six months between the time the plan is approved and the date it is implemented. If you plan to charge smokers a higher health care premium, you must offer a cessation program according to HIPPA regulations. While many smokers accept the reality of a smoke-free workplace, embracing a cessation program make not settle as well with them. Human resources must revise employee handbooks, training materials and policy documents. You can get ideas and support from organizations such as the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society and the National Business Group on Health.
Introducing the Program
Going to a smoke-free workplace and implementing a program to help employees kick the habit may come as a shock to some, so leave no doubt about your intent. Well before the implementation date, put out announcements and explanations in every place employees will see them – company newsletters, posters and inserts with paychecks. Prepare FAQ handouts and have your managers and supervisors share the information that they have received. You may wish to have company meetings to explain the programs and emphasize their importance.
The Quit Smoking Program
If you plan to charge smokers a higher health care premium, they must be offered a program to help them get free of tobacco. You can offer clinical counseling, support classes and a telephone hotline. You can also provide nicotine replacement therapy – products like gum and patches – and pharmaceutical drugs to reduce the impact of withdrawing from nicotine. Your cessation program should be ongoing in order to be available to new employees as well as repeaters.
Thomas Metcalf has worked as an economist, stockbroker and technology salesman. A writer since 1997, he has written a monthly column for "Life Association News," authored several books and contributed to national publications such as the History Channel's "HISTORY Magazine." Metcalf holds a master's degree in economics from Tufts University.