Kicking the habit: Employers play key role

Rebecca Weitzel

Rebecca Weitzel

If you knew thousands of dollars were circling the drain at your business every year because of a single behavior, would you address the situation? What if you also knew this behavior caused more deaths than accidents, AIDS, alcohol abuse, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined?

It’s difficult to imagine ignoring something that causes this level of destruction, yet that’s exactly what we do each day we ignore tobacco use.

Research shows about 70 percent of tobacco users want to quit, yet for various biological, psychological and social reasons struggle to do so. Fortunately, employers are well-positioned to lead the charge in tackling this problem  by starting with the work force. Most employers care about their employees and also stand to realize significant cost savings when employees stop using tobacco. By one estimate, tobacco use costs employers an average of $5,800 per smoker per year due to lost productivity and increased health care expenses.

One remedy several large corporations have used is to refuse to hire smokers in the first place. Other businesses hire smokers, but don’t allow tobacco use on the worksite. Some people view such tobacco policies as infringements on individual rights. Others see them as a matter of organizational congruence — aligning policies with company values, community image and health care investments.

While a complete ban on hiring smokers could be viewed as discriminatory, a tobacco-free policy need not conflict with individual rights. It could be argued, in fact, these types of policies best account for the rights of all employees by balancing smokers’ rights to use these products off campus and nonsmokers’ rights to work in a smoke-free environment. Because of the highly addictive nature of tobacco products — especially in smoke-friendly environments with powerful social and emotional triggers to smoke — tobacco use at work actually could interfere with one significant choice: the choice to quit.

Although studies suggest tobacco-free policies enhance cessation initiatives, education and support alone can still be beneficial. Examples of cessation support include educating staff on the dangers and costs of tobacco use, highlighting the health and financial benefits of quitting, promoting counseling through the company insurance plan or employee assistance program, encouraging doctor-patient discussions about cessation medications and providing information about resources in the community.

If your business needs a reason to take action sooner than later, consider syncing your efforts with the upcoming Great American Smokeout set for Nov. 17.
Log on to www.cancer.org/healthy/stayawayfromtobacco/
greatamericansmokeout for free resources, event toolkits and marketing materials.

By helping employees conquer this addiction, you’ll not only give them a new lease on improved health and longer life, but also reduce the organizational and societal costs associated with tobacco use. It’s clear employers hold significant power in strengthening community efforts to triumph over tobacco.

Here are some local resources and support to help:

  • Colorado Quit Line at (800) 784-8669. Free telephone and online services are available to Colorado residents 15 years old and older, including coaching and such nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) as patches.
  • Hilltop tobacco cessation support groups. This six-week, evidence-based program for employer groups is held onsite. Call Amanda Salinas, a Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist, at 244-0614 for pricing and information. Free NRT and partial scholarships are available through the St. Mary’s Survivorship Program.
  • St. Mary’s Hospital. Receive free tobacco-free rack cards and referrals to the Hilltop employer program by calling Debra Hesse at 298-2351. Contact the Regional Cancer Center for clinical tobacco cessation visits at 298-7500.
  • Rite Aid Quit for You. This program offers free pharmacist consultations, a quit plan, starter tools and discounts.
  • B4 Babies. Expectant mothers receive free education, cessation support and a one-year free diaper incentive. Call Karen Clymer at 244-2206.
  • Primary Care Partners. PCP, Juniper Family, Peach Valley and Foresight Family practice patients as well as St. Mary’s employees receive free coaching and support.

Visit www.healthymesacounty.org for updates to this list. “Like” the Healthy Mesa County Facebook page to join the conversation about smoke-free living in Mesa County.

Rebecca Weitzel is lead advisor in Mesa County for Health Links, a nonprofit worksite wellness initiative of the Colorado School of Public Health, and wellness manager and consultant at Hilltop Community Resources in Grand Junction. For more information and resources on worksite wellness, call Weitzel at 244-0698 or log on to www.healthlinkscertified.org or www.healthtopwellness.org.
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