Smoking cessation programs Featured

5:53am EDT February 14, 2006

Free smoking cessation programs are widely available for businesses to utilize. But don’t let the word free lead you to believe that smoking cessation programs must be weak or incomplete. The fact is, the tobacco settlements have paid for the programs. These are successful programs with outbound calls and enrollment certificates.

The first thing you should do is ask, “Why does my business want to utilize a smoking cessation program?” Determining this first will influence the type of program you need to put in place to accomplish your goal. Here are some common reasons for using the programs.

  • We care about our employees’ health, and we want to help them without being punitive

  • We believe smokers cost more to insure and they should pay more for their benefits

  • We believe smokers cost the company more money in general because they take more breaks and they are out on sick days more than nonsmokers

Every year you should review the reason why you have a program and make adjustments to your program accordingly.

The next thing to do is choose your resource. There are numerous places to get your free program.

  • Your health insurance carrier

  • 1-800-QUIT-NOW

One strong combination is No. 2 and No. 4. The smokefree.gov Web site has all the materials you will need to put together a high-quality program. You can use the materials to conduct your own classes and enroll in a customized program.

Combining the Web site with the 1-800-QUIT-NOW program will allow you to include those employees that may not have adequate access to the Internet. Employees anywhere in the country can call this toll-free number and are automatically routed to their state’s smoking program.

These programs have coaches that will evaluate the caller’s needs and customize a program for them. This program includes written materials, referrals to local free resources and up to four outbound calls over a two-month period to check on their progress.

The next thing to do is to establish a consequence if the employee is a smoker. If there are no consequences, the program will typically fail. It is good to follow large public or government programs, as they are typically the least punitive and a good reference point in your communication to your employees. The state of Georgia has a $40 monthly penalty if anyone who is covered by the health plan uses any form of tobacco.

The following are the recommended consequences of being a smoker.

  • Remain a smoker and pay the increase in employee contributions for the medical plan

  • Pay a slightly smaller monthly penalty if you come to the company smoking cessation meeting and provide proof that you have enrolled in the state-funded program but remain a smoker

The next thing that you must do is establish the consequences of getting caught smoking if you have declared yourself a nonsmoker. This is the most difficult part of your program. The employee should receive a document that outlines the consequences of smoking, and the document should be signed by each employee. Give members the opportunity to come forward on their own if they return to smoking to avoid a harsher penalty. The following options are currently used by programs all over the country.

  • Immediate implementation of the standard penalties

  • Repay back to the beginning of the plan year all penalties

  • Termination of eligibility in the medical plan

  • Termination of employment

The last thing to do is pick an implementation date for the penalties. Give your employees notice of the new program and a way to stop smoking before the penalty is applied. Any program with consequences will be received negatively by the employees that use tobacco — having a program in place to help your employees quit shows them you want to help. Six months to one year is the recommended ramp-up period.

Bruce Bishop (bruce@kybabenefits.com) is director of marketing and managing partner of KYBA Benefits. KYBA Benefits provides consulting and administrative services to more than 400 corporate accounts, ranging in size from 20 employees to more than 7,000. Reach Bishop at (770) 425-6700 or (800) 874-2244, ext. 205.