Up in smoke: Tobacco use costly for businesses

Mary Cornforth
Mary Cornforth

What kills more people than motor vehicle accidents, illegal drugs, alcohol, AIDS, murders and suicides combined? This deadly killer is tobacco, and it’s preventable.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, tobacco use constitutes the leading cause of preventable disease, disability and death in the United States. This isn’t surprising news. Nearly everyone knows tobacco is deadly and highly-addictive, making quitting difficult. Most tobacco users admit they’d quit if they could.

What might be surprising is that 58 million nonsmokers in the U.S. are still exposed to secondhand smoke. The CDC reports that nearly half a million adults die prematurely of smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke each year.

In 2006, Colorado became the seventh state to enact a comprehensive smoke-free law. The Clean Air Act of Colorado prohibits smoking in public places, including workplaces that employ more than three people. While the law prohibits smoking at most businesses, a number of places — including all outdoor job sites — remain exempt. Even with state regulations, workers can still be exposed to secondhand smoke outside of buildings and in exempt areas.

There are steps employers can take to create smoke-free workplaces as well as offer support and resources to employees who’d like to quit tobacco. Moreover, there are many benefits to adopting tobacco-free workplace policies — increased productivity and job satisfaction along with decreased absenteeism, medical costs, worker’s compensation costs and building maintenance expenses.
A 2002 CDC study estimated that businesses could save up to $6,000 a year on these expenses for each tobacco user.

The return on investment is considerable. Each year in the U.S., nearly $170 billion is spent on medical care to treat diseases related to cigarette smoking. Tobacco use was a leading cause of lost production time in a national survey of 29,000 workers. In Colorado, $1.9 billion was spent in 2009 on health care costs related to smoking.

Tobacco-free work environments lead to an average 72 percent reduction in secondhand smoke exposure. Not only does a tobacco-free workplace prevent exposure to secondhand smoke, it also supports employees who want to quit. The workplace affords an ideal setting for tobacco cessation programs because it offers a group of people that regularly interacts over extended periods of time, creating an environment that allows for peer influences and support. Workplaces that implement smoke-free policies and promote services that support quitting increase the chances of employees stopping tobacco use.

Healthy Mesa County offers resources to share with employees looking for free or low-cost tobacco cessation programs. For more information, visit the website located at www.healthymesacounty.org.

Additional resources to help businesses create  tobacco-free workplaces are available online at the websites at www.bhwellness.org/toolkits/Tobacco-Free-Facilities-Toolkit.pdf and www.tobaccofreeco.org/protect-coloradans/smoke-and-tobacco-free-worksites/.

In Mesa County, the proportion of adults using cigarettes remains significantly higher than in Colorado. Let’s help change these statistics. Our entire community will breathe easier as a result.