In 1964, the United States Surgeon General issued a report linking smoking to dozens of deadly diseases, including lung cancer and heart disease. Since the publishing of this report, sweeping measures have been implemented to reduce tobacco use.
Despite years of successful efforts at reducing American tobacco consumption, it still remains the largest cause of preventable illness, death, healthcare costs, and lost work productivity. And now tobacco use is on the rise. So, what gives?
Tobacco use is on the rise
Our recently published Attitudes Toward Tobacco Use in the Workplace report- based on the responses of over 500 HR professionals and 1,500 tobacco-using employees at midsize to large companies across five industries with high tobacco usage rates (construction, hospitality, manufacturing, retail, and transportation) – raises cause for employer concern.
We found that the COVID-19 pandemic accounted for dramatic increases in tobacco use. Survey respondents showcased this, with 19% stating that they began using tobacco for the first time during the pandemic; 17% increased tobacco their existing consumption during the pandemic, and 12%, who had quit prior to 2020, started using tobacco again during the pandemic. Additionally, the increase came in part due to the prevalence of vape products, with around 58% of all tobacco users surveyed reporting regular vape use, and 56% of cigarette users relayed that they also vaped.
This data should prove startling to employers with tobacco users in their employee population: 80% of tobacco users surveyed said they expected their employer to offer assistance in their cessation efforts. With tobacco use climbing, the need for apt tobacco cessation solutions needs to be reprioritized within employee benefits hierarchies.
Luckily, we also asked what employees really wanted from their benefits offerings. Below are three steps, based on our report findings and employee responses, that employers can take to improve employee wellness while combatting the uptick in tobacco use.
How to improve employee wellness in three steps
Understand why tobacco cessation is a top three benefits priority
Both employers and employees agreed that workplace tobacco cessation programs are important. A vast number of employer respondents listed tobacco cessation as one of the top three wellness priorities for 2022. Smoking takes a toll on both the mental and physical health of its users. That’s why tobacco cessation efforts can complement employer wellness priorities, including offerings like mental health, counseling, and therapy, as well as heart and lung health.
Know that employees are looking to quit using tobacco
Around 97% of surveyed employers expressed concern surrounding workplace smoking and/or vaping risks and costs. With high concern comes a high motivation to help employees quit. There was less agreement, however, in how employers currently view tobacco use. Around 62% of employers see tobacco use as a chronic health condition best managed by offering accessible and judgment-free healthcare. The remaining employers viewed tobacco use as problematic employee behavior that created adverse business consequences like increased costs, employee productivity, and more.
Satisfy employees that want tobacco cessation programs
Contrary to the beliefs of many non-tobacco users, employees who smoke or vape are highly interested in tobacco cessation benefits. Employees want these programs as part of their benefits offerings – most respondents who didn’t report having access to an employer-sponsored program actively wished one was available to them. In fact, most of those surveyed reported that they would be willing to and likely would sign up for an employer-sponsored quit program.
The time to act is now
Employees are not only highly interested in receiving tobacco cessation as a benefit but are enthusiastic and ready to participate in these types of programs. This leaves the ball in the court of the employer, and with renewed prioritization at companies nationwide, the time to act is now. So, how will your team choose to help your tobacco-using employees?