Helping Your Employees Quit: Developing a Smoking Cessation Program

In the United States, more than 480,000 deaths per year are caused by cigarette smoking, and more than $300 billion is spent annually on treatment and loss of productivity due to cigarette-related illnesses. Despite all the information out there, quitting smoking can be incredibly challenging. Often, people aren’t sure how to start, what resources exist, or how they can gain access. But we know quitting smoking can save lives – and save employers money. Setting up a smoking cessation plan for your organization could have some big long-term benefits. For every employee that successfully quits smoking, experts estimate an organization can save around $6,000.

Starting a smoking cessation plan at your organization can help to empower your employees to quit. Partner with your insurance company and your Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to provide incentives and access to resources that could help your employees successfully quit. Often, these can include resources on how to quit, behavior therapy, nicotine patches, medicines, and counseling.  These are tools that address all aspects of quitting smoking.

The first step in creating a successful smoking cessation plan is to create policies and procedures around the plan. Decide whether your plan will include e-cigarettes, if you will restrict smoking on your property, and what types of incentives and deterrents will be included in your plan. Above all, be realistic with your plan. Statistically, those who attempt to quit smoking will not be successful the first time. This means your employees may need to go through this program multiple times; whatever policy you create should take this into account and make clear what it means for the employee the first time, second time, or third time they attempt the program and what supports will be provided.

Many insurance companies will work with organizations to empower their employees to quit smoking; it is a win-win across the board after all. While some charge a surcharge for smoking, you may be able to get them to waive the surcharge for those employees who are actively attempting to quit. If your employee is willing to sign an affidavit saying so, insurance companies may be willing to waive the fee as long as they remain a part of the program. This could be a carrot to entice your employees to quit. On the other hand, employers may offer some negative reinforcement to make smoking more difficult on their company property.

However you build your plan, it should include a few important things. The first things you should account for are the physical, psychological, and emotional supports an individual needs to quit an addictive habit. Through providing resources from nicotine patches to counseling, you can empower your employees to rebuild their identity as a non-smoker and work through the symptoms of withdrawal.  Remember, quitting smoking is not just changing a habit; the process will take a toll on the employee and these tools can make the difference between success and failure. Offer incentives, such as wellness benefits. Organizations that see the most success with smoking cessation and other wellness programs offer small incentives, such as an additional $10 on your paycheck for reaching goals for things like quitting smoking or weight loss. These incentives can be given throughout the process, so employees continue to be encouraged to quit.

Finally, ensure that you are realistic in your plans and compliant. Use the resources you have to empower your employees and create a support system that they can rely on for anything from information on how to begin quitting to where to find affordable counseling. No matter your plans, it is as always important to ensure your organization’s compliance with local, state and federal laws. Smoking cessation plans do fall under the ACA and can fall under laws protecting smokers or apply to laws surrounding health insurance. Do your research and know what your local, state and federal legislation requires when it comes to creating an effective smoking cessation plan.

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