Financial Wellness

You Are Paying More for Smoking Employees Than You Think

With the New Year ahead, many smokers are going to make ditching the nasty habit of smoking a resolution as they hope for a healthier year ahead, and that's more than great - it's life changing! As a 25-year ex-smoker, (celebrating my 5-year anniversary in December!) I know the habit and I know it's possible to quit - forever!

According to the 2014 Tobacco Report: Tobacco Use in Canada - Patterns and Trends, 16.1 percent of Canadians (approximately 4.6 million people) smoked in 2012. The good news - 6 out of 10 who have ever smoked, have quit!

That is a very inspirational statistic. This is the only time I'm glad to be a quitter. You will be too, whether you're Canadian, American, Australian, or from anywhere else around the globe.

Why Quit?

To say that smoking is unhealthy is an understatement. In fact, every year 37,000 Canadians die because of tobacco use and more than 1,000 who never smoked die from tobacco exposure. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer in Canada and it is estimated that more than 85 percent of lung cancer cases are smoking related.

The unfortunate thing is these deaths are preventable! The powerful thing is that we can save millions of lives by informing, encouraging, motivating, and supporting smokers to quit, every step of the way.

Why Should Employers Help Smoking Employees Quit?

According to a Conference Board of Canada report, released in 2013, on average each smoker costs their employer an estimated $4,256 in 2012 - more than $3,800 in lost productivity due to unsanctioned smoking breaks and more than $400 in lost productivity due to absenteeism. Even though the annual absenteeism cost is only about 10 percent of the overall cost to employers, it has an overall impact because it applies to both current smokers and recent quitters.

Smoking employees also may take longer breaks than non-smoking employees may. This may be because it can now take more time to go to a place where they can smoke. There are also other employer costs, having to install external ashtrays and having them cleaned, including the surrounding areas, on a regular basis.

In addition to the costs in lost productivity and the costs for accommodating smokers as mentioned, employers need to be aware, if they aren't already, that smokers have higher rates of early retirement and premature death. This of course translates into further costs of prematurely scouting, hiring, and training new talent.

According to Health Canada, many companies that have offered smoking cessation activities to their employees report positive results. Further, according to the Canadian Lung Association, smoking cessation programs are worth the investment and even profitable if offered over five or more years.

The health of your employees is invaluable; we cannot put a price on it. Having smoke-free employees means they take fewer sick days, there are fewer disability claims and their retirement age will likely be higher than their smoking counterparts will. You can't forget the associated costs as well!

Many of us now know that employers who invest in employee health are the ones attracting and retaining better talent, and therefore are the ones staying ahead of their competition in their industry. Therefore, including a smoking cessation program as part of a workplace wellness program, or at the very least on its own, is another way to invest in employee health, letting them know you care about them.

At the same time, your business is benefiting from even healthier employees, a happier work environment (well, maybe once the withdrawal symptoms dissipate), and a more profitable business. It's a win-win-win!

How Employers can Help Smoking Employees Quit

For starters, have a non-smoking policy or a smoking ban in the workplace. It protects employees from second-hand smoke; it encourages smoking employees to quit; and it supports your dedication to employee health. And a ban increases the employee-quit rate, as you will see below.In addition, employers can reimburse employees for purchasing quit smoking aids/treatments, such as nicotine patches/gum, acupuncture, or laser treatments, to give you a few examples.

Acupuncture and quit smoking aids may be covered under your group insurance plan as well. Offer Smoking Cessation Programs on their own or as part of a workplace wellness program. There are various options for these programs. Smokers can quit independently by doing their own research and using resources such as the Canadian Cancer Society, the advice of a physician, quit-smoking aids and they can use quit-smoking helplines (check the ones for your area), for example.

Why the Workplace?

Workplaces specifically are an ideal setting to help people quit smoking and here's why:

  • Many spend most of their day at work
  • They have access to a higher number of smokers
  • They can access and help those that do not see a doctor or other health professionals on a regular basis
  • They are convenient and dependable for gathering information regularly
  • With several people, they have several potential social supports, for those that want to quit and recent quitters alike
  • They can have and enforce smoking bans which encourage smoking employees to cut down or quit, and help the quitters stay smoke-free

Referencing this last bullet, and the note above about a ban, this is a quote from Philip Morris the owner of the Marlboro brand: "Smoking bans are the biggest challenge we have ever faced. The quit rate goes from 5 percent to 21 percent when smokers work in non-smoking environments" (Bates No. 2054893642) That's very interesting.

Let's hypothesize about current employed smokers for a moment. Three-quarters of smokers in 2012 were working which is 3.45 million employed smokers in 2012. So as a very rough estimate, for argument sake, let's say there are currently 3 million employed smokers.

At a cost of $4,256 to the employer per smoker (without inflation), that's a whopping $13 billion bill to Canadian employers! Therefore, if 21 percent of smokers quit in a non-smoking environment then we can get 630,000 to quit smoking in Canada, just from a smoking ban! Even though these are my rough figures, you can get the idea.

Further, The Conference Board of Canada estimated that the rate of daily smokers in your average Canadian company would fall by a whopping 35 percent by 2025 if a workplace cessation program were introduced. Without a workplace cessation program, the rate is expected to fall by only 13 percent. I won't bore you with the math on this one.

How to Encourage Employees to Quit

Incentives are one way to encourage smoking employees to quit. You can create contests or you can take part in community, provincial, or national activities. Some of these are:

  • National Non-Smoking Week (third week in January)
  • Weedless Wednesday (third Wednesday in January)
  • World no Tobacco Day (May 31)
  • Canada's Healthy Workplace Month (October)

I personally tried the "Driven to Quit Challenge" twice (March). You have to quit for 30 days. I didn't last either time and that's ok, at least I tried. The grand prize has always been a car and the biggest motivator for me.

A car is the perfect reward for quitting, isn't it? Of course it is. Another great thing about this contest is you have to sign up with a "buddy" to support you through the month.

Proven Workplace Cessation Strategies that are Successful

According to Health Canada, the following strategies for workplace cessation programs are proven successful:

  • Include non-smoking policies, health benefit plans, and cessation information and activities
  • Involve staff and management, various departments, union reps, smokers, non-smokers, and ex-smokers
  • Subsidize quit-smoking medications
  • Understand that quitting smoking is a process. Allow employees to participate in activities and access quit-smoking medications as often as they need to make the various quit attempts often necessary to stay smoke-free for good.
  • Remove possible barriers from participating in activities, such as cost, location, and time.
  • Tailor the program to your workplace. Consider, for example, the needs of employees, including shift work or language-appropriate written materials.
  • Extend cessation benefits and activities to spouses and family members.
  • Take a long-term approach, giving all involved long-term results and benefits.

Furthermore, cessation programs in the workplace are great on their own, however they are more effective as part of a workplace wellness program. This way, the cessation program is part of a WHOLE health and wellness initiative, and reinforces the fact that employee health is a priority in your workplace.

What Worked for Me

How did I quit? Thanks for asking, well, after trying seven or eight times (I didn't keep track) with different methods, the nicotine patch, nicotine gum, and cold turkey, cold turkey for me did the trick. Of course, that method took several attempts too (The Driven to Quit Challenge twice included!).

From researching tips, I set my own date and went cold turkey on that date. I also planned for how I am going to deal with cravings, mood swings, frustration, and so on. Anything you use smoking as a crutch for, or when you smoke simply out of routine, I planned on how I was going to deal with it.

I found this made me confident and calm in dealing with letting go of this habit, instead of it sucking me back into it and using it as a crutch or living with it as a part of my daily routine as usual. From the prior six or seven quit attempts, I learned a lot about myself, my smoking habit, and myself with the smoking habit.

This made my final attempt easier to manage, much easier in fact. Now, almost five years later, I cannot stand the smell of smoke and I wouldn't dream of smoking ever again. Quitting "cold turkey" worked for me, it may not work for you but if you truly want to quit smoking, you certainly can and will do it. Do not give up on yourself!

With a supportive workplace, how can you go wrong? Employers have the opportunity to make a difference in people's lives, their families, their business, and even the economy.  Smokers will try to quit when they are presented with opportunities and options, and they are more likely to succeed with support.

Support your smoking employees, make a difference and help them quit today.

About the Author

Elana Magen owns and operates Executive Exercise, which provides workplace wellness programs in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. After some experience in the wellness industry, while still servicing businesses of all sizes, we are now focusing on small businesses where there is a strong wellness need. "Keep Your Business Moving."

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