a lit cigarette

New Cessation Site Coincides with 33rd Great American Smokeout

The non-profit National Business Group on Health (NBGH) launched a new Web site yesterday titled The Business of Quitting, promising it will be the definitive site for U.S. employers interested in helping their workers quit smoking. Yesterday was the 33rd Great American Smokeout, a day when the American Cancer Society (ACS) encourages people to commit to making a long-term plan to quit for good. Most smokers can't quit the first time they try, NBGH officials and leaders who support the new site agreed.

"Helping employees quit smoking is a win/win proposition for employers and employees, as well as their families," said Helen Darling, president of NBGH. She said the new site will help all Americans, because even non-smokers can be exposed to tobacco smoke. Smokers' children are healthier when the parents quit, she added.

American companies spend about $167 billion per year on health costs and lost productivity related to smoking, according to NBGH.

The site is already stocked with useful resources, including case studies of cessation programs operated by Dow Chemical Co., Lowe's, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, Panasonic Corp. of North America, and Quest Diagnostics Inc.; a Business Case section that discusses return on investment and the economics of smoking; a benefits section that includes way to increase employee benefits utilization; a Global section with information about costs, tobacco use, and policies in Brazil, Canada, Mexico, China, India, and the United Kingdom; employer and employee surveys about cessation; and more.

Smoking is an addiction, a "chronic disease that often requires repeated interventions before success can be achieved," said Dr. Corrine G. Husten, MD, MPH, vice president for policy development at Partnership for Prevention, who participated in the news conference to launch the site. Husten is a former director of CDC's Office on Smoking and Health who has contributed to all major U.S. tobacco control guidelines. She listed four pillars for an effective employer cessation program: coverage, tobacco-free workplace policies, easy access to treatment services, and support for community interventions that support cessation.

Most employers, however, do not offer comprehensive smoking cessation benefits to their workers, however. CDC and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recommend including these components in a benefits program:

  • Cover at least four counseling sessions of at least 30 minutes each, including telephone and individual counseling sessions.
  • Cover smoking cessation prescription medicines.
  • Cover over-the-counter nicotine replacement medication.
  • Provide counseling/medication coverage for at least two smoking cessation attempts per year.
  • Eliminate or minimize co-pays or deductibles for counseling and medications.

Fred R. Williams, director of health benefits management for Quest Diagnostics Inc. and a member of the NBGH National Leadership Committee on Consumer Directed Healthcare, said 3,000 of Quest Diagnostics' 43,000 employees have enrolled in its cessation program since the program began three years ago, and 35 percent of enrollees have successfully quit smoking. The company has used brochures, a companywide voicemail message from management, a health risk assessment to explain risks and benefits, and other communication tools to encourage enrollment. The program uses a volunteer leader at every company location, and it covers 100 percent of the costs for all workers, both full and part time, and their families and dependents, Williams said.

On April 1, 2009, a tobacco-free policy will take effect for all of the company's locations. The policy was recommended by the volunteer leaders, Williams said.

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