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Help Your Micro-Business Kick Butts

Wednesday, July 29, 2009
By now everybody knows the risks of smoking—from cancer and heart disease to prematurely aged skin. Tobacco use is the biggest cause of death worldwide and the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.
But have you thought about the dangers tobacco poses to your micro-business?

Besides the direct health risks to smokers, tobacco use in the workplace can cause a slew of other problems, such as higher health insurance premiums for workers and employers as well as employee loss of time and productivity.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that workers who smoke cost their companies an average of $1,760 in lost productivity and $1,623 in excess medical expenditures annually.

Encourage Quitting

You can do a great deal to encourage employees to quit smoking without putting pressure on your micro-business budget:

  • Provide stop-smoking guides. Government entities such as the CDC and nonprofits like the American Cancer Society make such documents available for free.
  • Slip a sheet with quit-smoking information into pay envelopes. Include phone numbers for free quit lines that smokers can call for counseling.
  • Use employee newsletters or e-mail to distribute facts and figures about the risks of smoking and benefits of quitting.
  • Offer incentives such as a cash bonus for employees who successfully complete a stop-smoking class. You could offer a second bonus after, say, three or six months of smoke-free living.
Know The Law

Because of the additional expense of employing smokers, some companies have decided that they will not hire candidates who smoke. Although this is legal in most states, such a stance is highly controversial, and lawsuits have resulted.

If you’re considering not hiring—or firing—employees because of smoking status, check your state laws and consult with an attorney to determine whether the benefits outweigh the risks.

State laws about smoke-free workplaces vary widely. And in many cases the laws apply to even the smallest businesses—those with one or more employees.

Create A Nonsmoking Policy

Once you’ve decided whether to provide a smoking area or to ban puffing altogether at your place of business, your policy should clearly spell out details such as:
  • Will the rules also apply to company vehicles?
  • What is the buffer zone, in feet, outside the building where smoking may be permitted? 
  • How frequent will smoking breaks be? How long?
  • Must the rules be followed only during regular business hours or all the time?
  • Are employees permitted to take part in quit-line phone counseling sessions while on the job?
  • What are the consequences of policy violations?
Make sure to:
  • Explain that the policy is being enacted to protect everyone’s health, not to punish smokers
  • Give employees plenty of notice—at least a month or two—to adjust to the changes
  • Hand out smoking-cessation information and resources along with the policy
  • Post notices indicating that the office is a smoke-free zone or spelling out which areas are smoke-free and which permit smoking
  • Provide policy information when hiring new workers

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