When the first Surgeon General’s report in 1964 linking smoking to cancer was released it was called “one of the most important documents in the U.S. public health history.” The results from more than 8,000 documents had been analyzed and the conclusion was that smoking caused lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, and cancer of the larynx. It also listed other diseases, but the association between them and smoking was not as clear. The release of the new Surgeon General’s report on the 50th anniversary states smoking rates have declined, but doesn’t have good news when it comes to smoking and your health. A higher risk of diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and colorectal cancer are added to the previous conditions of lung disease, heart attack and stroke. Even before this new report came out employers have been developing health and wellness programs to help keep down insurance costs and lower lost productivity costs due to smoking. Don’t be surprised if they step up those efforts.
Some employers, such as the School District of Palm Beach County, currently use the honor system when it comes to employees’ word about their tobacco use. But other employers may start to screen for nicotine at the same time they screen for other health issues during annual physicals. A study released by Ohio State University in 2013 found each smoker adds an additional $5,800 a year in costs for a company in “absenteeism, smoking breaks, health-care costs and pension benefits.”
As new information emerges linking smoking to chronic diseases, such as diabetes (which can lead to heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease and amputations), and rheumatoid arthritis (which is treated with costly drugs), companies may increase their efforts to curtail smoking to keep health costs and lost productivity due to absenteeism down. Currently about 90% of employers offer some sort of smoking-cessation program; that number could rise in the face of this new research. Investing in making a healthier work force will help companies financially. For every $1 Johnson & Johnson is investing in health and wellness programs, they are saving $2 to $4. When the company began collecting data in 1998, 12% of the employees said they smoked. Now that number is below 3%. The company says their wellness program, which addresses smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, “has saved the company $565 annually per employee.”
One group says higher tobacco taxes, smoke-free work environments and cessation programs encourage people to quit. But employers have seen participants in cessation program “double or quadruple after they introduce financial incentives or penalties.” Everyone has their own incentives for why they need to give up smoking, but better health and saving money seem like two of the best.
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