How to help your employees quit smoking for the Great American Smokeout

Ten steps to a smoke-free workplaceken2

Will your organization be participating in this year’s American Cancer Society Great American Smokeout® (GASO)?

GASO occurs every year on the third Thursday of November — the 17th this year. The goal is to encourage smokers to select a quit date that they can plan and get support for.

Quitting smoking for just one day can make a difference. According to the American Cancer Society, after just 20 minutes without a cigarette, blood pressure and heart rate drop.i After 12 hours without a cigarette, carbon monoxide levels in the blood will actually drop back down to normal.ii The concept around GASO is that if smokers can quit for just one day, perhaps it will give them the confidence and motivation they need to quit for a lifetime.

Since 1985, we’ve collaborated with the American Cancer Society to help over 2 million people quit smoking. The Quit for Life® Program teams up your employees who use tobacco with specially trained Quit Coach® staff who give them guidance and support toward quitting for good.

If you’re planning to help your organization become smoke free, we salute your commitment to implementing practices and policies to support a healthier future for all employees. A critical element in creating a smoke-free culture within a workplace is prohibiting smoking on company premises. But there is another, equally important, component: helping current employees break their tobacco addiction.

Chances are, most of your employees who smoke have tried to quit before and have lost confidence due to repeated failed attempts. Research shows it is not uncommon for smokers to try up to 30 times before succeeding at remaining tobacco-free for one year or more.iii Yet, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, almost 70 percent of smokers want to quit.iv Your employees, in other words, are ready to hear what you have to offer.

Achieving a smoke-free workplace isn’t an easy process, but there are straightforward steps you can take to make the transition as smooth, efficient and rewarding as possible.

1. Choose the right smoke-free initiative.
Once you’ve committed to supporting employees who want to quit and protecting other employees from secondhand-smoke exposure, it’s important to determine which kind of initiative is right for your organization. One option is a smoke-free workplace, defined as a 100 percent smoke-free environment within your organization’s enclosed spaces. Another option is a smoke-free campus, which means zero acceptance of tobacco use on your organization’s campus, both indoors and outdoors.

2. Understand state and federal requirements.
Many states have laws that will affect your smoke-free initiative. If you have locations in multiple states, it’s important to analyze laws to determine legal requirements in each state and ensure that your initiative is in compliance.

3. Assess your organization’s needs, interests and limitations.
How interested is management in implementing a smoke-free policy? How interested are your employees? What legal and logistical challenges might you face in enforcing smoke-free policies? How is workplace tobacco use addressed in any existing union contracts? These are among the questions you need to consider.

4. Develop a plan.
Consider forming a wellness committee, comprised of employees representing each unit of the company, responsible for developing a smoke-free policy that clearly articulates expectations and consequences. Create a calendar that includes specific activities or milestones for educating and preparing management and employees, and determining how the new policy will be enforced.

5. Communicate and promote.
Determine how to best communicate with both employees and managers. Will you do a multi-modality communications plan that includes digital marketing and/or holding small departmental information sessions? Will you create posters for the break rooms or post content on the company intranet? Develop clear messaging that both supports the goals and objectives of your program and speaks to your organization’s demographics.

6. Offer a comprehensive tobacco-cessation program.
Though some employers choose to implement a tobacco-free policy before offering a tobacco-cessation program, research suggests that smoke-free workplace policies are more successful when employees are first offered help quitting. When employees don’t have time to prepare for a tobacco-free policy, they tend to view the policy as punitive.

7. Offer financial incentives.
Some employers offer premium differentials to reward nonsmokers and smokers who quit successfully. Many organizations have found that these and other types of financial incentives are an effective way of encouraging smokers to participate in cessation programs. Before implementing, be sure to check with your legal counsel about health care regulation regarding financial incentives.

8. Create a supportive environment.
Your efforts should promote and reinforce the idea that smoking cessation will help employees achieve better health. Accordingly, it’s important to provide your employees who smoke with easy access to the tools and resources that will help them break their addiction to tobacco. If you don’t already have a tobacco-cessation vendor, now is a good time to identify one.

9. Determine how to enforce the policy.
Several weeks before the policy takes effect, appoint someone from your staff to educate supervisors and security officials about their roles in enforcing the policy. Drawing on specific scenarios and solutions, provide guidance on how to correct noncompliance. Also, also work with your HR representatives when developing the policy and corrective actions.

10. Evaluate your initiative’s success.
After investing the time and energy required to launch an effective initiative, you’ll want to see clear and measurable results. Early on, plan how you will evaluate your initiative’s success so you can collect the most helpful data. Continue with regular evaluations so you can make improvements.

These steps are only the beginning and are intended to provide general guidance, support and encouragement. Once you’ve developed a plan and shared details to constituencies throughout your organization, you’re ready to implement it. The message you will want to spread: The new initiative isn’t intended to punish tobacco users, rather it is to promote wellness and encourage employees to pursue a healthier lifestyle.

To learn more about our tobacco cessation program and how Optum can help you plan and implement a smoke-free policy, visit Quit For Life and request to hear from a program specialist.


About the Author:
Ken Wassum is director of Clinical Development and Support for Quit For Life at Optum. He is a tobacco dependence treatment expert with more than 23 years of direct experience in counseling, developing treatment protocols, training and clinical oversight.

i Accessed 8/4/16.
ii Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Quitting smoking among adults — United States, 2001–2010. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 60, pp. 1513–1519. Accessed 8/4/16. Latest data available.
iii BMJ Open 2016;6:e011045 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-011045 Accessed 10/3/16.

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