Corporate Wellness Programs

How to Create an Effective & Exciting Smoking Cessation Program

Smoking Cessation in the Workplace

These days, we know there are significant health and financial costs associated with tobacco use. In addition to the physical and emotional distress brought on by tobacco-related diseases and deaths, tobacco users often have higher costs for health care and life insurance, increased absenteeism and lower productivity than non-users.

Employers can attempt to combat the negative health and economic effects of tobacco use by adding smoking cessation program to their employee benefits package. Paying for employees’ tobacco cessation treatment provides more return on investment than any other adult treatment or prevention benefit.

An effective smoking cessation program is more involved than sending a few emails and avoids stigmatizing specific employees because of tobacco use. Create excitement and support when you engage all your team members and think outside the box when demonstrating your company’s total commitment to employee health.

What is the Cost of Tobacco-Use?

Tobacco use costs lives and is the leading preventable cause of death. Employees who quit are lowering their risk of death. No one wants to be a statistic.

In addition to the direct risk to smokers, over 600,000 nonsmokers are killed by secondhand smoke each year. This is an important reason to focus on protecting nonsmokers as part of your total smoking cessation program.

A significant amount of time is lost from work due to smoking breaks and the illnesses and fatalities that are caused by smoking, as smokers are more likely to suffer disabilities, more likely to miss work and less productive than nonsmokers. Outside of clear detriment to your business, focus on the effects to employees and their families. Lost time at work or disability can mean financial struggles, and their lost productivity can be a direct cause of low performance and stunted career growth in the long term.

On average, health care expenses and lost productivity due to smoking cigarettes cost a staggering $193 billion each year in the United States alone.

Other business-related costs of smoking include workers’ compensation claims, accidents, fires, and cleaning and maintenance.

Understand the Long Game

Remember that even with a top-notch smoking cessation program, there may be employees who do not wish to quit. While it may feel frustrating, it’s important not to punish or alienate these employees. Focus on the successes of your program while remaining supportive to all.

Evaluate Your Medical Plan’s Smoking Cessation Tools

Under federal health care reform, most (but not all) health plans are required to provide tobacco-use screening for all adults and cessation interventions for tobacco users, at no cost.

First, you should confirm that the health plan(s) you offer to employees covers effective treatment of tobacco use (or request one that does) including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Four or more 30-minute counseling sessions, including both telephone and individual counseling—tobacco users are more likely to use these sessions than classes
  • Both prescription and over-the-counter nicotine replacement medication and other medications that aid in tobacco use cessation

  • Counseling and medication for at least two smoking cessation attempts per plan year

  • No copays or deductibles on these services, as programs that offer counseling and medications free of charge are generally more effective than those that require cost sharing

  • Coverage for employees’ spouses and dependents, in addition to the employee

  • In addition, do or consider the following when creating your benefits package:

    • Ensure that health care providers (those in on-site medical clinics and those with larger health care plans) adhere to Health Employer Data Information Set (HEDIS®) requirements. HEDIS measures whether providers screen all patients for smoking, counsel smokers to quit and recommend FDA-approved medications.
    • Ensure smoking cessation counseling emphasizes problem-solving and social support to enhance the likelihood of abstinence.
    • Offer incentives to achieve and maintain healthy lifestyles, subject to legal limits.

For help in both evaluating your health plan’s tobacco-use cessation program and comparing to other businesses in your industry and/or region, you should contact an experienced benefits broker.

Bring Out the Big Guns – Healthcare Cost-Sharing Strategies

We know that smokers are a bigger risk and have higher medical claims overall than non-smokers. A significant method for employers to combat this is to implement a smoking surcharge. Essentially, this means that smokers will pay a higher percentage of their healthcare premium if they elect employer-sponsored coverage.

Changes to health care costs are already a big concern for your employees, so implementing a surcharge of this kind should not be done without proper time, preparation, and communication. Employers should allow an adequate period for tobacco users to attempt to quit before applying the surcharge, we recommend a minimum of six months.


While your employer-sponsored medical plans and traditional policies like the smoking surcharge are a good start, they may not be an exciting or well-rounded approach to smoking cessation. These programs may seem stale and even negative, so consider implementing or promoting other alternative benefits that can inspire and/or help employees to quit. The below ideas can apply to a range of businesses and budgets – ask the experts at Austin for help or more ideas!

  • Acupuncture: Most health plans may not cover acupuncture, but it can be an additional type of treatment that can help manage addiction. Acupuncture alone in likely not enough to kick the habit of smoking, but it can greatly reduce cravings and physiological effects of withdrawal during the process of quitting.

  • Gym Membership: If your business is invested in wellness, you may already offer free or discounted gym memberships. For those trying to quit, going to the gym on a regular basis can help distract from the process of quitting, giving them a new healthy habit.

  • Policy: Some people choose to make the transition to quitting by use of e-cigarette or other cigarette alternatives. Have a policy in place about the usage of these tools in the office, such as restricting flavored options that may create offensive smells to others.

  • Lunch & Learn / Support Meetings: Set aside time for employees to learn about quitting techniques, health benefits, or just support each other on their journey.

  • Yoga/Meditation/Deep Breathing: Host special in-office or off-site sponsored classes in low-impact and stress-relieving traditions. These can benefit all your employees, but be sure to point out benefits to those interested in smoking cessation.

  • Hobby/Hand Craft Activities: Instead of a regular office lunch, bring in some team-building or relaxing activities that keep hands busy, while relieving stress. Try making collage vision boards, using adult coloring books, or creating inspiration quote displays to have fun, relax, and create a healthy distraction.

Make Smoking Cessation a Family Affair

When one family member smokes, it is likely there may be others in their home who are also tobacco users. Make sure to reach out to your employees’ family members to invite them to participate in your smoking cessation program.

While many teens and young adults are low users of cigarettes and chewing tobacco, new e-cigarettes have become popular. Many are unaware if they are using a tobacco product or the dangers of additives in e-cigarette liquids.

We recommend updating your smoking cessation program to include information on e-cigarettes which may include how they may help some people quit, but to beware of dangers to teenagers and children.

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Acknowledgment & Rewards – For Non-Smokers, Too!

Employees who smoke may get rewards at your organization in the form of benefits for completing certain types of cessation programs or even perceived benefits such as more flexible break time.

Make sure to show your company’s appreciation and support of employees who lead a healthy lifestyle, too.

For example, if you offer a small monetary reward to employees who are taking cessation courses or treatment, offer the same to non-smokers for participating in a different program for their health – maybe a walking club or gym attendance.

Recently, some companies have received news exposure for offering additional PTO for employees who do not smoke. This benefit has a very high value to your employees and in the long-run costs relatively little to your business.

The lure of additional PTO may even be perceived better than reduced healthcare costs when it comes to smoking cessation rewards.

Support Initiatives in Your Community

Wellness is not just about lowering your bottom line. If you focus too hard on the financial aspect, you will come across as disingenuous and excitement for all your wellness programs will suffer.

You can avoid this by maintaining a truly well-rounded, and genuine approach to wellness. Include employees (make sure all demographics have ways to participate), their families, and support wellness initiatives in your local community. Company leaders should also lead the way in wellness through participation and promotion.

Support tobacco-free organizations and holidays and consider fundraising when you can’t participate off-site. The Austin team loves raising money for our community with Charity Jean Weeks!

When you take into account these methods, your smoking cessation initiative and wellness program as a whole provides the best experience for employees. Quitting tobacco is often a long process and the stress of the workplace can make it harder.

Encourage healthy habits year-round for all employees and beyond your office to create effective wellness programs.

Looking for help with smoking cessation programs, smoking surcharges, or wellness programs in general? Contact the team at Austin Benefits Group for help today!

Additional Resources

Cathy Siska COO

Cathy Siska
Chief Operating Officer

2024-04-17T13:58:10-04:00 Health & Wellness|