Punishing smoking employees doesn’t help them quit

WebStatistics show that smoking employees cost employers $6,000 more than non-smoking employees. This is for health reasons as well as issues of “presentism,” when an employee is present but not truly working (such as if they’re off having a smoke break).

In an attempt to even out this hefty cost, some states allow insurance companies to charge 50 percent higher premiums for smokers than nonsmokers for individual health plans, while many small businesses also make smokers pay a fee for their nicotine habit.

Both Tennessee and Mississippi allow insurers to charge that maximum of 50 percent higher premiums. Arkansas allows an upcharge of 20 percent. For information on other states, visit healthmarkets.com/content/smoking-and-health-insurance.

However, a new study says that over half of these employers don’t provide employees with any resources or assistance to help them quit, which leadership coach Jack Skeen says is a very poor management technique.

“You can’t just impose a ‘smoking tax’ on your employees and expect the pain of that to make them quit,” says Skeen, who recently wrote a business development book, “The Circle Blueprint: Decoding the Conscious and Unconscious Factors that Determine Your Success.” “Smokers KNOW that smoking is bad for them. They know it is robbing them of health, wealth and respect. They know that it makes their clothes smell and their loved ones worried for them. Research proves this … 70 percent of smokers want to quit, they just don’t know how.”

Skeen says that if employers really want to reduce the cost that smoking employees impose on a business, they need to look beyond being purely punitive and instead start thinking about ways they can actually inspire and support workers who want to quit but don’t know how.

“There are a number of effective smoking-cessation programs for the workplace, such as by the American Lung Association’s Freedom From Smoking® program which is used by hospitals and workplaces across the country,” says Skeen.

“You might also consider out-of-the-box ideas, such as a recent decision by a Japanese company to give employees who don’t smoke six extra days off work each year. The idea here is not to punish smokers for lighting up, but to incentivize healthy behavior while making sure that you are actually helping to support that behavior.”