In the past 100 years, we have made incredible advancements in public health. We’ve added fluoride to our water supply, developed vaccines for a number of deadly diseases, and established dietary guidelines to combat nutrient deficiencies and malnutrition. And in 2018, we made tobacco products illegal … oh, wait. That’s not true. Actually, it’s far from true. Today, 15.5 percent of Americans still smoke despite the growing body of evidence that shows it’s incredibly bad for us.
Why? It’s cool. Or at least, that’s what mainstream media and celebrities have led us to believe.
Don Draper is hardly ever without a cigarette in Mad Men. Fashion models are notoriously known for smoking to stay thin. And many baseball players continue to use smokeless tobacco, despite ballparks taking action to ban it. Not to mention, the Marlboro Man was one of the most successful marketing campaigns of all time.
These pop culture icons make lighting up seem glamorous and desirable when it’s really just a bunch of (cigarette) smoke and mirrors.
Tobacco products contain over 7,000 chemicals, many of which are poisonous. And at least 70 of them are known to cause cancer. In 2004, 71 percent of all lung cancer deaths were attributed to tobacco. Today, that number has jumped to over 80 percent making lung cancer the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women.
Between smoke breaks, extra healthcare costs, and presenteeism, each smoker will cost employers an average of $5,800 per year, giving a whole new meaning to money “burning a hole” in your pocket.
So how do you prevent your revenue from going up in flames? Help your employees overcome their tobacco addiction. Here’s how:
- Offer a Smoking Cessation Program
Partner with a workplace wellness provider and offer your employees Nicotine Replacement Therapies (NRT)—like gum, lozenges, or patches—coaching, and educational resources on the health risks of smoking. Subsidizing the cost of these tools reduces the burden of quitting and provides employees with extra encouragement.
Incentivizing your smoking cessation program further motivates employees to participate. Employers who offered participation rewards saw 82 percent of tobacco users make serious attempts to kick the bad habit.
- Create a Tobacco-free Environment
Create a formal policy banning the use of all tobacco products—cigarettes, chewing tobacco, pipes, vapes, etc.—anywhere on office property and in company vehicles. If employees have to leave the premises to smoke, they’re less likely to indulge.
The American Cancer Society has a sample tobacco policy you can adapt to fit your workplace. Be sure to communicate the policy and consequences for violating the policies to your employees.
- Educate Your Employees
Hold events where employees who want to quit smoking or better understand tobacco addiction can learn more. You can host guest speakers, screen documentaries on smoking, and give presentations on how to successfully quit or offer support to loved ones trying to kick the habit.
If holding events isn’t an option, consider providing your employees with educational materials. Flyers with eye-opening stats on the risks of using tobacco and emails with links to helpful resources on how to quit smoking can be informational and inspirational. If you work with a wellness program provider, they may be able to supply you with similar materials.
- Participate in Public Health Events
Many national and international public health organizations have observances throughout the year aimed at helping tobacco users quit. Events like the American Cancer Society’s The Great American Smokeout and the World Health Organization’s World No Tobacco Day highlight the harmful effects of tobacco use as well as the many resources available to those trying to quit.
Company participation in public health events shows your employees you support their decision to quit. Plus, many organizations have free promotional materials designed to encourage employees to get involved.
Help your Employees Quit Smoking
You can’t make anyone change. They have to want to change for themselves. But providing the resources and support your employees need to quit reinforces the idea that you’re invested in helping them live healthier lives. And that can make all the difference.