Blog 3/20/2019

Between a Rook and a Hard Place When It Comes to Tobacco Usage in the Workplace

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one-fifth of working adults in the United States are tobacco smokers, costing employers up to an extra $6,190 per year per smoker.

Many employers resort to tobacco surcharges added to smoking employees’ insurance premiums as one method to promote a healthier workplace. According to DirectPath’s 2019 Medical Trends & Observations Report, 27% of employers imposed tobacco surcharges in 2019, with the median charge increasing 20% to $59 per month. Employer incentives (such as premium reductions, gift cards, and account contributions) aren’t moving the needle fast enough and are therefore increasing the penalties for being a tobacco user.

Like a game of chess, you can’t rely on one piece to promote tobacco cessation. If surcharges are your king, you still need help from rooks, knights, bishops and your queen to create a successful path to “checkmating” tobacco use. Try incorporating these methods alongside tobacco surcharges as part of your smoking cessation strategy:

1.Smoking cessation programs

Similar to a king in chess, surcharges cannot win the game alone, as employers are required by HIPAA wellness rules to provide a way to avoid the surcharge. Smoking cessation programs are the most effective way to help employees quit and avoid any surcharges, as long as they are communicated clearly by providing resources, such as coaching calls or group counseling sessions, and a financial reward for staying tobacco-free (either waiving a tobacco surcharge or receiving another type of financial reward).

Smoking cessation programs should be worked into your company’s benefits communications program to highlight the program’s availability, benefits, and successes. If your company uses tobacco surcharges, be sure to promote that the cessation program is the way to avoid it being added to an employee’s premium. Without proper communication around any smoking cessation programs or acts, your “chess pieces” won’t act like one cohesive team with a common goal.

The American Cancer Society’s “Quit for Life” program has helped more than 1 million employees quit smoking through a combination of coaching calls, online learning & community tools, and medicine that also rewards them financially for quitting smoking after six months in the program. Driving the program’s success is the communication around it—they provide guides, texts, and emails to help connect prospective quitters to the right resources they need to start dropping their smoking habits, and the right support groups to make sure people don’t give up when they’re having trouble dropping smoking entirely.

2. Coverage for nicotine replacement therapy

Coverage for nicotine replacements can be useful either on its own or as part of your smoking cessation program. From nicotine gum to patches, there are a variety of nicotine replacement products available to help ease the transition for employees trying to quit smoking. By covering the costs for these products, whether partially, fully, or covered through the company’s health insurance, your company can show that it cares about employees’ health and acknowledge the dangers that nicotine addiction could have on one of them.

However, just like the knight on a chessboard, it’s not the most substantial piece by itself. While useful on its own, tying it into your company’s tobacco cessation program will go a long way in creating a strategy to help employees achieve their tobacco-free goals.

3. The Great American Smokeout

For more than 40 years, the American Cancer Society has hosted the Great American Smokeout on the third Thursday of November as an opportunity for smokers to commit to healthy, smoke-free lives—not just for a day, but year-round.

Promote the Great American Smokeout as a date for smokers in your company to begin their plan to quit, or to plan in advance and start quitting on that day. When designing a communications and promotions strategy around the event, utilize resources from organizations like the American Cancer Society to show the dangers of smoking (fact: 480,000 Americans die from smoking each year) and provide outlets to help quitters ease the transition to being smoke-free.

With the event taking place in November, you can even tie it into your fall open enrollment communications to emphasize how it can provide camaraderie and support for people who want to quit. After all, 80% of smokers say that support from family, friends, co-workers, and their community are critical in their efforts to quit.

Are you interested in learning more about tobacco surcharges and other medical trends affecting employer-sponsored health plans in 2019? Then check out our 2019 Medical Trends & Observations Report here.

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