Tobacco use in the United States remains the largest cause of preventable illness, death, health care costs, and lost work productivity. And now, thanks to COVID-19 and the popularity of vape devices, tobacco use is on the rise.
The role benefits leaders play
Benefits leaders across the country recognize rising tobacco use as a deeply concerning issue. According to our recent Attitudes Toward Tobacco Use in the Workplace report, around 46% of benefits leaders estimate the prevalence of tobacco use in their company to be between 21% to 50%.
An additional 8% of employers surveyed estimated tobacco use prevalence to be greater than 50%. These numbers should be deeply concerning to everyone, but especially to benefits leaders, whose jobs often center around ensuring employees are happy and healthy.
It’s benefits leaders that typically step up and help both employees and their families quit using tobacco products. But, it’s difficult to do that when it’s clear that employers and employees have different views of the workplace tobacco cessation programs provided to tobacco those who receive benefits.
Employer confidence in program effectiveness is high
Survey results show that among employers, confidence in their tobacco cessation program effectiveness is high. Around 94% of employers say they offer a tobacco cessation benefit program, and 97% of employers believe that employees understand the company’s cessation benefit fairly well or better. However, employee responses tell a different story – specifically, that barriers exist, hindering employee adoption of employer-provided tobacco cessation programs.
The key barriers preventing the effectiveness of tobacco cessation programs
Program awareness is low among employees
Around 45% of employees surveyed stated that they either don’t have access to a program or don’t know if a program is offered to them. On the other hand, 26% of employees who know that there’s a program offered said that their lack of understanding about the program keeps them from signing up.
Worry, frustration, and lack of confidence
Quitting tobacco is hard and odds are, many employees who currently use tobacco have tried to quit before. Lack of success in previous attempts can act as a barrier to program entry. Additionally, many are concerned about their image or perception upon admitting their use of tobacco, or upon joining a cessation program. This can lead to fear and worry about being treated with less respect.
Concern surrounding increased charges for health insurance
Employees surveyed expressed concern about being charged more for health insurance by beginning a cessation program, a consequence that often comes with admitting to their employer that they use tobacco. In fact, tobacco surcharges – where employers charge employees that use tobacco more for health insurance – are relatively common. Around 61% of employers surveyed have a tobacco surcharge in place, which can cause employees to hide their habits.
Cessation programs do not address multiple forms of tobacco use
More than half of surveyed tobacco-using employees indicated that they consume multiple forms of tobacco, increasing opportunities for subtle use during the workday. Standard tobacco cessation solutions lack the ability to address multiple forms of tobacco use, which can result in a lack of program success.
While employers and benefits leaders are facing extensive challenges, there are simple ways to change the way employees view tobacco cessation programs.
Three ways to increase the impact of employee smoking cessation programs
Keep in mind that employee interest is high
It’s important for benefits leaders to remember that employee interest in quitting tobacco is generally high. In our survey, 82% of employees who use tobacco responded that they’re somewhat or very interested in quitting. Capitalize off of that interest – you never know who may participate in or even evangelize your tobacco cessation program.
Recognize that surcharges can be a powerful incentive
Although they can be controversial, surcharges can act as a powerful incentive to garner employee tobacco cessation program participation. Employees who reported that their employer had a tobacco surcharge in place were more than twice as likely to know whether a tobacco cessation program was offered.
Communicate using a variety of methods
Better communication is key when presenting tobacco cessation programs to employees. Communicate key points like the benefits and effectiveness of tobacco cessation programs and break down the stigma against tobacco users that exists at your company. Evidence suggests that simply communicating more often and including specific details about your tobacco cessation program can potentially increase registrations.
The time is now
Employees are interested in receiving tobacco cessation as a benefit and are enthusiastic and ready to participate in these types of programs. Benefits leaders have the opportunity to take action outside of simply generating awareness.