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Help Your Small Business Kick (Cigarette) Butts

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 small business?

Besides the direct health risks to smokers, tobacco use in the workplace can cause a slew of other problems. These include:

  • Higher health insurance premiums for workers and employers
  • Increased likelihood of employee disability
  • Risk of fires and property damage
  • Greater cleaning expenses
  • Illness caused by secondhand smoke
  • Employee loss of time and productivity
  • Even the chance of lawsuits by nonsmoking employees
This report does more than outline the dangers of smoking. It also offers strategies and resources to help you craft a smoking policy for your small business and encourage employees to quit. It’s a win-win for you and your staff.

The Cost Of Smoking
The numbers are stark:

In 2005 smokers cost the U.S. $157.7 billion in health-related economic expenses, the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office reports.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated in 2005 that cigarette smoking and secondhand smoke combined cost $92 billion each year in lost productivity. The 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.

Smokers also have more hospital admissions and make more visits to health care facilities.

On average, workers who smoke miss 6.16 days each year because of sickness; nonsmokers miss 3.86 days, according to a 2001 study published in the journal Tobacco Control.

Strategies To Encourage Quitting You can do a great deal to encourage employees to quit smoking without putting pressure on your small-business budget:
  • Provide information sheets, brochures and stop-smoking guides for the cost of duplication. 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.
  • Ask a guest speaker to address a staff luncheon or other get-together. Consider inviting a physician, university researcher, public health official or representative of the local American Cancer Society or American Lung Association. Invite employees’ spouses and teenage or college-age children to take part.
  • If you offer health insurance, find out whether your policy covers tobacco-cessation medicines and counseling. Most policies don’t, despite the cost-effectiveness of such services.
  • 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.
  • If you provide health insurance, give nonsmokers a break on monthly premiums. Such rewards could encourage smokers to quit.
  • Involve your company in a local health fair or the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, held every November.
Drugs And Therapies That Work
Nicotine addiction is tough to kick — but the prospects today are better than ever, with free telephone counseling (known as quit lines) and over-the-counter and prescription drugs.

Smokers are two to three times more likely to succeed in quitting with a combination of medicine and counseling.

First-line medications include nicotine patches, gum, lozenges, an inhaler and a nasal spray. The latter two are available only by prescription. The drug bupropion (brand names Zyban and Wellbutrin) helps reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Varenicline (Chantix) has the same effect and also blocks the effects of nicotine if the patient starts smoking again.

With nicotine-replacement drugs, the goal is to reduce cravings and gradually reduce the dose so the body can get used to lower levels of nicotine.

Second-line drugs — used when the options described above don’t work — are nortriptyline (Aventyl) and clonidine (Catapres). Nortriptyline is an antidepressant that may help with smoking cessation. Clonidine is typically used to treat high blood pressure, but may reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms.

Such meds can help quitters cope with the withdrawal symptoms. But equally important is counseling that helps smokers understand why they smoke, develop strategies to combat cravings, and learn constructive ways to handle stress.

In-person classes can be effective, but research indicates smokers prefer telephone counseling. It’s widely available through national and state quit lines staffed by trained personnel. Services in most states include between one and six sessions with a quit counselor; a few offer as many as eight or nine sessions.

Quit lines can also connect callers to community resources, social-support groups, Internet resources and other forms of assistance. Studies indicate that using a quit line more than doubles a person’s chances of smoking cessation. And some states offer free and/or discounted medications for quitters.

What You Need To Know About 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.

For example, New York state prevents smoking in almost every workplace (private homes are an exception) and requires employers to implement a written smoking policy. Louisiana prohibits smoking in public places but is much more relaxed about office buildings. Its nonsmoking laws apply only to employers with 25 or more workers.

Smoke-Free Or Not?
As you decide whether to allow smoking in a designated area or ban it outright, consider your goal.

Is it to encourage quitting? To protect nonsmokers and customers from smoke exposure? To reduce employee medical costs due to smoking and secondhand smoke?

Options include creating a smoke-free environment, allowing smoking in separately ventilated areas of the building, or setting aside part of the office for smoking. The last choice is the least desirable since it doesn’t discourage smoking and offers employees little or no protection from secondhand smoke.

The smaller your office, the greater the benefit of banning smoking on the premises.

And if you’re trying to do everything possible to slash medical costs and protect employees, it makes sense to eliminate all exposure to secondhand smoke. Doing so could protect you from future lawsuits. As the government report “Making Your Workplace Smoke Free” notes, given that cigarette smoke is considered a Group A carcinogen, “it would be difficult to argue that an employer who has not reduced [environmental tobacco smoke] to the lowest possible levels has provided a safe workplace.”

A complete ban on smoking protects the office from cigarette-related fires; reduces cleaning costs; and gives carpets, drapes and office furniture a longer lifespan.

And fully 70 percent of adult smokers say they want to quit. Studies indicate that a smoke-free workplace makes it easier for smokers to cut back or quit.

Finally, nonsmoking employees and customers will appreciate a smoke-free environment.

Creating 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 the details. Consider the following:
  • Will the rules also apply to company vehicles?
  • What about smokeless tobacco and other tobacco products?
  • What is the buffer zone, in feet, outside the building where smoking may be permitted?
  • Will the smoking zone keep smokers out of sight of those entering the building?
  • 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:
  • Distribute copies of the policy document to all workers
  • 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 prepare for the changes
  • Be available to discuss staff concerns and questions one on one
  • 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
For More Information
To learn more about smoking cessation or to get help so you can stop smoking, visit these Web sites.

The American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout
Free downloadable posters, fact sheets, payroll stuffers and kits for employers.

The American Lung Association
Free online program, Freedom From Smoking, gives smokers tools and information to quit.

National Cancer Institute’s Smokefree
Advice for those who want to quit smoking; toll-free phone counseling and free instant-messaging service.

Government-sponsored guide to free local stop-smoking services, Q&A videos about the telephone counseling service, guides to quitting.

“Making Your Workplace Smoke Free: A Decision Maker’s Guide,” from the CDC

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