Tobacco Use: Five Questions for CDC Expert Dr. Corinne Graffunder

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Foundation helps businesses improve employee health—and overall business health—by reducing tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure. Corinne Graffunder, Dr.P.H., M.P.H., director of CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, answers five questions about how businesses can protect employees from tobacco use.

1. What resources can CDC offer my business?

CDC develops, implements and supports strategic efforts to protect the public’s health from the harmful effects of tobacco use. Along with free resources, CDC includes guidance that can be leveraged to develop and sustain tobacco-free workplace policies. Many businesses rely on CDC for evidence-based health communication campaigns to educate employees about the dangers of tobacco use and also help those who smoke to quit.

For example, our Tips From Former Smokers campaign resource shares real stories of people living with smoking-related diseases and disabilities, offers free downloadable materials, social and digital media resources, and more, to help employees quit. For employers seeking guidance on workplace policies, CDC offers Promoting Health and Preventing Disease and Injury Through Workplace Tobacco Policies, which includes recommendations aimed at protecting workers from tobacco use, as well as secondhand tobacco smoke. As another example, CDC’s Vital Signs series includes an issue entitled Secondhand Smoke: An Unequal Danger, which explores the dangers of secondhand smoke and shares steps everyone can take to protect people from exposure.

2. What steps can I take to protect my workforce from tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure?

Your business can take proven steps to protect employees’ health from the harmful effects of tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure, which could help improve profitability and productivity. There are six actions you can take to protect your workforce. First, CDC recommends adopting a comprehensive tobacco-free worksite policy. Second, do not allow tobacco use on workplace property, including outdoors, in parking areas and in company vehicles. Third, you can offer all employees and their dependents health insurance that supports smokers who want to quit through coverage of all FDA-approved medications and counseling, with little or no co-payments. Fourth, employers can promote the free national quitline, 1-800-QUIT-NOW, and encourage employees to visit Fifth, use the free, evidence-based resources at CDC’s Tips From Former Smokers campaign to inspire and help smokers quit. And finally, consider locating your business in jurisdictions with comprehensive smokefree policies.

3. How can promoting cessation and smokefree working environments help improve my bottom line?

Cigarette smoking remains the largest cause of preventable disease, disability and death in the United States. About 20 percent of the nation’s adult workforce still smokes cigarettes, which not only threatens employees’ health and well-being, but can also result in decreased productivity, increased absenteeism and increased workplace maintenance costs. Employers can help improve employee health—and overall business health—by helping employees reduce tobacco use and by eliminating secondhand smoke exposure.

Smoking costs the U.S. economy more than $300 billion a year in direct medical care and lost productivity. For example smokers are estimated to cost employers nearly $6,000 more per year than nonsmokers. This means that if you are a business owner with five smokers, you could incur $30,000 in additional costs each year.

Secondhand smoke is also a major concern. We know that about 20 percent of U.S. workers are exposed to secondhand smoke on the job. Secondhand smoke exposure results in $5.6 billion a year in lost productivity in the United States. Insurance and maintenance expenses also need to be considered. Smoking increases the risks of fires and injuries, which can increase health and building insurance costs by up to 30 percent.

Promoting quitting among your employees and providing them with a tobacco-free work environment can contribute positively to overall business health.

4. How can I help my employees quit smoking?

Adopting a comprehensive smokefree policy and providing cessation assistance to smokers who want to quit as a result of such a policy is the most effective place to start. We know that when businesses provide cessation resources to smokers at the outset of a new policy, employees are more apt to use these resources.

Another way to help is to offer employees and their dependents health insurance that covers support for quitting, including all FDA-approved medications and counseling, with little or no co-payments.

You can also distribute a list of local cessation programs, provide free CDC self-help materials, and help employees get connected to their states’ quitlines. Quitlines offer free help through 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669). Callers have the opportunity to speak with coaches who develop a unique plan for each individual. Most states provide free counseling, a library of resources and support and referral services.

In addition to the services offered by these quitlines, the National Cancer Institute offers trained counselors at 1-877-44U-QUIT (1-877-448-7848), who can provide employees with English and Spanish language information and support for quitting. Lastly, the website provides free, accurate, evidence-based information and professional assistance to help support the immediate and long-term needs of people trying to quit smoking.

5. Why is it important for businesses to have smokefree policies to protect employees in the workplace?

Eliminating secondhand smoke in the workplace helps protect all employees and customers or patrons. The Surgeon General concluded 10 years ago that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Exposure can cause serious health problems. Among adults who don’t smoke, secondhand smoke can cause heart disease, stroke and lung cancer. Secondhand smoke contains nearly 70 cancer-causing chemicals. In addition to protecting your workers’ and customers’ health, going smokefree could protect your business by reducing the potential legal liability associated with employees being involuntarily exposed to secondhand smoke. Nonsmokers harmed by secondhand smoke at work have won lawsuits and disability claims against their employers.