Tomorrow is the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout. The ACS is marking the event by encouraging smokers to use November 15th to make a plan to quit, or to plan in advance and quit smoking that day.  


Smoking and Your Employees 

The negative effects of nicotine on a smoker’s health are well-documented, but did you realize that encouraging your employees to kick the habit can benefit your company as well? Consider the following facts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Tobacco use is responsible for an estimated $96.8 billion per year in lost productivity due to sickness and premature death.
  • Tobacco use is also responsible for at least $96 billion per year in direct medical costs.
  • Tobacco-free workplace policies and decreasing the numbers of employees who model tobacco-use behavior will reduce tobacco use initiation among employees and, in addition, may influence tobacco-use behavior in employees’ families.


And, as reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, children living with smokers have higher rates of respiratory illness and miss one to two more days of school per year than their classmates. Family members who stayed home to care for these children lose at least $227 million annually in forfeited wages and productivity.No smoking policy for the workplace

Establish a Smoke-Free Workplace

Establishing a tobacco-free workplace communicates to employees a consistent pro-health message and may reduce tobacco-related health care costs. While many state laws mandate that indoor workplaces be smoke-free, some businesses are not legally obligated to prohibit smoking.


If you’d like to introduce a no smoking policy in your workplace, the following tips from the CDC may be helpful:

  • State your goal to create a safe, healthy workplace for all workers;
  • Mention the documented health risks of secondhand smoke;
  • Be clear and simple about where smoking is prohibited and avoid exceptions to the policy (for instance, don’t allow smoking in private offices or production areas);
  • Voice your commitment to help smokers who want to quit; and
  • Design the policy to treat all workers fairly, regardless of title or smoking status.

Support Worker Efforts to Quit Smoking

Providing cessation benefits in conjunction with a no smoking policy can help support the quitting process. The CDC offers these suggestions:  

  • If you provide health coverage, check to see if your policy covers cessation services (including counseling and medication); if it doesn’t, look into adding such coverage;

  • Distribute a list of local cessation programs;

  • Provide free self-help materials;

  • Organize free onsite support groups; and

  • Offer free or reimbursed cessation programs onsite or through local providers.

Can a Health Plan Charge a Higher Premium for Smokers?

The nondiscrimination provisions of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) generally prohibit group health plans from charging similarly situated individuals different premiums or contributions or imposing different deductible, copayment or other cost sharing requirements based on a health factor. However, there is an exception that allows plans to offer wellness programs, such as free cessation classes or counseling.


If none of the conditions for obtaining a reward under an employer’s wellness program are based on an individual satisfying a standard related to a health factor, or if no reward is offered, the program complies with the nondiscrimination requirements (assuming participation in the program is made available to all similarly situated individuals). For example, a program that reimburses employees for the costs of smoking cessation programs without regard to whether the employee actually quits smoking would comply with HIPAA.


For a group health plan to maintain a premium differential between smokers and nonsmokers and not be considered discriminatory under HIPAA, the plan’s nonsmoking program must meet the following five requirements:

  • The premium differential is not more than 20% of the total cost of employee-only coverage (or 20% of the cost of coverage if dependents can participate in the program);

  • The program is reasonably designed to promote health and prevent disease;

  • Individuals eligible for the program are given an opportunity to qualify for the discount at least once per year;

  • The program accommodates individuals for whom it is unreasonably difficult to quit using tobacco products due to addiction by providing a reasonable alternative standard (such as a discount in return for attending educational classes or for trying a nicotine patch); and

  • Plan materials describing the terms of the premium differential describe the availability of a reasonable alternative standard to qualify for the lower premium.


For More Information

Check out the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout page for more information on quitting. The CDC offers a number of resources for developing a tobacco-free workplace. Our section on Implementing a Tobacco-Free Campus Initiative in Your Workplace offers additional guidance on establishing a smoke-free policy for your company.


And now would be a great time to download our FREE Must-Do HR Checklist, an excellent resource for staying HR-compliant!


Image Credit: YOUscription


Topics: Employee Benefits, Human Resources, Employee Health and Wellness

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