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Employers and employees benefit from smoke-free workplaces

The ills of smoking are documented far and wide. Nowhere is that more known than in workplaces. Not only are employers restricting smoking on the job, many are realizing that helping employees stop the costly habit has both workplace and personal benefits.

“Helping smokers quit certainly saves the employer money and increases productivity,” said Sharon Garrison of the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi. “Studies show that tobacco use causes $1.34 billion in lost productivity in Mississippi each year. Smokers generally miss about twice as many days of work due to illness as nonsmokers do each year.”

According to Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, smokers, on average, miss 6.16 days of work per year due to sickness (including smoking related acute and chronic conditions) compared to nonsmokers, who miss 3.86 days of work per year.

Time spent outside smoking is also lost productivity. A national study based on American workforce productivity found that tobacco use was one of the greatest variables observed when determining workers’ lost production time. Lost time increased in relation to the amount smoked.

Estimates for workers who reported smoking one pack of cigarettes per day or more was 75% higher than that observed for nonsmoking workers.

“There are a lot of downsides to smoking. Employers are seeing that and that’s why we’re seeing more of them take action to restrict smoking more and help employees quit,” said Dr. Tom Payne, a clinical psychologist and associate director of University Medical Center’s ACT Center, a full-service smoking cessation center. “The program we deliver is intensive treatment for heavy and long-time smokers and those with other complications.”

He points out that smoking is not just a bad habit; it’s an addiction and very hard to stop. Some factors, including depression, other substance addictions and medical disorders make it even tougher. The ACT Center has a trained staff located in the Jackson Medical Mall and at 13 sites around the state to help smokers quit.

“Tobacco use may be involved in depression or the intensity of it. There is some evidence emerging about that,” Payne said. “About one-third of the smokers we treat report depression.”

He says that from the employer’s perspective, smoking is absolutely bad. “Employees lose time to go smoke several times a day. They congregate around the front door. Fire insurance costs are higher,” he said. “Smokers adversely affect the bottom line by missing more days and having longer hospital stays. They have long, drawn out illnesses that are more costly. You can just go down the line and anywhere smokers are not a good investment.”

However, Payne feels smokers should not be treated as bad people. Hopefully, when businesses go smoke free, employers will give their employees support to help them quit. Garrison agrees that employer support is important and says it should come from the top down. Management must support all policies regarding tobacco use, including restrictions and disciplinary actions if in place.

“Employers can have a positive impact when trying to get their employees to quit smoking,” she said. “Evidence shows that restrictions on where people can smoke are a good first step. For instance, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi and University Medical Center recently made their entire campuses tobacco free, so there is no convenient place to just step outside.”

The Partnership offers group counseling sessions at work sites along with a toll free quit line, printed material and funding for cessation classes.

Memorial Hospital in Gulfport teamed up with the Partnership to provide classes. The program is a graduated process with the curriculum combining individual and group meetings. Free nicotine replacement patches are available with physician approval. Once the six sessions have ended, participants benefit from follow-up treatment.

“It’s really rewarding to see people who have quit,” said Deloras Morris, one of the program facilitators at Memorial Hospital. “They’re really grateful. Research shows that when a person gets help, they are twice as likely to quit tobacco use for good.”

Bob Roley, a Gulfport resident and volunteer at Memorial Hospital, had tried everything to quit smoking, even hypnosis. He began smoking as an adolescent and continued as an adult. When he heard about the smoking cessation program, he decided to try one more time. He received a pacemaker and defibrillator two years ago and his health was an essential part of his need to quit.

“I feel great now and I can do a lot,” he said. “I liked what I didn’t hear, too. I was not told to throw my cigarettes away but to taper off and set weekly goals.”

Payne says new medications are coming out to help smokers quit. He feels that education and prevention programs such as those done by the Partnership are causing a slow, steady decrease in smoking in the United State and some countries in Western Europe.

“There are a myriad of things thrown at adults to help them stop,” he said. “Raising cigarette taxes is also an effective tool and many states have done that. Everyone benefits. Every study indicates there are benefits to stopping at any age in life.”

Noting that a cigarette tax increase was vetoed by Gov. Haley Barbour, Payne added, “Mississippi State University did a statewide survey that revealed a high rate of endorsement among nonsmokers and smokers for the tax increase. I must ask the question, whose interest is the governor representing?”

In addressing business costs of smoking, Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights found that secondhand smoke costs the U.S. economy roughly $10 billion a year, $5 billion in estimated medical costs associated with exposure to it and another $4.6 billion in lost wages. Smoke free laws add value to establishments. Restaurants in smoke-free cities have a higher market value at resale than comparable restaurants located in smoke-filled cities.

The smoke-free establishments can expect to save about $190 per 1,000 square feet of space each year in lower cleaning and maintenance costs. Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates a savings of $4 billion to $8 billion per year in building operations and maintenance costs if comprehensive smoke-free indoor air policies are adopted nationwide.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.


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