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The Shawnee News-Star
  • Employers tackle the cost of smoking

  • Local businesses are taking initiative in the health of their employees by offering healthy options to those willing to change.


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  • Local businesses are taking initiative in the health of their employees by offering healthy options to those willing to change. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the annual health-related economic losses of smoking costs $96 billion in direct medical costs and approximately $97 billion in lost productivity totaling $193 billion a year. With the cost of smoking, employers took initiative and are reconstructing their health insurance policies to help their employees maintain a healthier lifestyle.
    Companies can either reduce benefits or do what they can to change lifestyle choices that result in higher medical costs.  The health care costs for an average smoker is $1,600 more a year than the average non-smoker, which is 18 percent more expensive for employers.
    Pottawatomie County Health Department employees have insurance options as a state employee. Administrative Director Tina Johnson said insurance options are now looking at positive ways to help employees make changes in their health status.
    “Many of the insurance policies now provide a Health Risk Assessment option that not only looks at tobacco use but also other factors that affect our health,” Johnson said. “The insurance options are providing opportunities for enhanced tobacco cessation benefits as well as physical activity options.”
    In the latest CDC data, cigarette companies spent $12.4 billion on advertising and promotional expenses in the U.S. While the tobacco industry increases its profits, local citizens continue to pay the price both financially and physically through addiction. In Oklahoma alone, the cost of tobacco dependence is 6,200 deaths a year and $1.2 billion in added healthcare costs.
    “Many times when people stop smoking, they not only identify that smoking was a health risk, but they also begin to look at their overall health and what factors or behaviors are they doing that affect that,” Johnson said. “As a result of healthier employees, you have fewer days of productivity loss.”
    The average smoker takes two extra sick days a year, is eight percent less productive and spends 30 minutes per work shift on smoking rituals. With employers’ increase of health insurance premiums for smokers, employers can offer cessation classes for those employees willing to quit smoking. In addition, the adoption of a tobacco-free worksite can help companies provide a healthier environment for its employees and visitors. By taking tobacco-free measures, employers can support its employees to stop smoking in hopes to decrease sick days and increase productivity. In addition to the health department, local tobacco free worksites include: Oklahoma Baptist University, St. Gregory’s University, Gordon Cooper Technology Center, Pottawatomie County DHS and Eaton Corp.
    Pottawatomie County DHS became tobacco free this past April. County Director Carmen Hutchins said one of its major benefits in becoming tobacco free was improving and protecting the health of the employees.
    “We have offered onsite tobacco-cessation assistance for any employee who is interested at no cost to the employee,” Hutchins said. “We have also encouraged staff to utilize assistance through their benefit package and insurance to assist them with becoming tobacco free. Employees also receive] reimbursement for all evidence-based tobacco-cessation treatments including counseling, prescription medicines and over-the-counter medicines.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Raising health insurance rates, providing cessation classes and implementing tobacco-free worksites are approaches local employers can take in trying to reduce the smoking rate in our communities. However, the need for restoring local control can provide more privileges for communities to create a healthier environment. Restoring local rights remains an issue in the upcoming 53rd Oklahoma legislative session beginning in February. By bringing power back into local communities, these communities could make their own decisions in regards to tobacco control, and attempt to raise the state of Oklahoma above its current 46th ranking in health status.
    For more information on how to adopt a tobacco-free worksite, contact Tobacco Prevention Assistant Coordinator Natalie Syharath at (405) 275-3391, ext. 108.

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