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Businesses Help Smokers Kick the Habit

Over the last two decades, various businesses in the United States have created smoke-free work environments, responding to health concerns about second-hand smoke. Employees who smoke are obliged to leave the work premises to light up a cigarette. Recently, a growing number of employers have gone a step further to help smokers kick the habit. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, they're encouraging employees to join smoke cessation programs and paying for the service.

Arthur Salamon is a Quit-coach. He provides phone-counseling services to smokers who want to quit.

"What we typically do in this first call is talk about your smoking history and experience with quitting in the past," he says. "Then, we use this information to come up with a strategy and a plan for quitting this time."

Salamon works with Free and Clear, a company that provides tobacco cessation services in 17 states. He is one of the experts who handle the phone lines, 18 hours a day.

"I talk to an average of 12 people a day," he says. "I do that 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year. So I talk to thousands of people every year."

While some of those seeking the service feel pressured by their employers to quit, Salamon says most appreciate the helping hand.

"Most of the folks that call in are actually very excited about it," he explains. "They say, 'I've been wanting to do this for a while. I've tried many times. I've not been successful,' or 'I've gone back to smoking and I'm frustrated and I want to do it.'"

And after a number of counseling sessions, he says, most of his clients do quit smoking, successfully and forever.

Salamon notes that research shows "that having on-going support from quit coaches, together with [using] medical support like nicotine replacement products, like patches and gum or also non-nicotine medication, yields a really high success rate."

Businesses are paying for the counseling programs and treatments. Free and Clear Executive Vice President, Sean Bell, says companies have a monetary incentive to do that.

"Over 50 percent of those who are insured in the United States are insured via their employer," he says. "As employers continue to look for ways to help manage their health care costs, which grow year after year far faster than the rate of inflation, they look at opportunities to introduce health and wellness programs that will encourage their employees to live healthier lives, thus lowering the overall cost to the employer of chronic disease or illness down the line."

Bell says helping employees quit smoking also reduces the costs of absenteeism and the drain on productivity due to chronic diseases caused by smoking. Some businesses, he adds, offer such programs to improve their public image.

"An increasing number of companies look to and embrace health and wellness as part of their brands," he says. "For example, if you are selling sporting goods or clothing or food, people do not want to see the employees of that organization smoking, it doesn't fit in with the brand the company is trying to promote in many cases."

This is part of a positive trend, according to Ron Finch of the National Business Group on Health. He points to other employer-supported wellness efforts like weight management and diabetes control, as examples of how businesses are focusing on improving their employees' health.

"Employers are moving to an emphasis on health and preventing illnesses and chronic conditions," he says. "It's becoming increasingly important that they do that as the workforce ages."

Finch says, "The younger generation of workers that are entering the workforce are less healthy than the previous generations because of lifestyle issues." It's important to offer these preventative services to them, he says to increase and maintain their health status.

With more and more companies of all sizes showing interest in such programs, Finch expects this trend to continue and expand.