Since the U.S. Surgeon General first warned the public about smoking’s health horrors in 1964, America has taken huge steps to stem the epidemic. From just 2005 to 2019, the percentage of American adults who smoke dropped by a third – from nearly 21% to 14% – according to the Surgeon General.
Despite these ongoing declines, smoking continues to take an outsized toll on Americans’ health, economy, and employers – a toll that intensified during the pandemic, since smoking increases the risk of COVID-19’s most severe outcomes.
“Tobacco use remains the nation’s leading cause of preventable death and disease,” writes the American Lung Association (ALA) in its 2021 “State of Tobacco Control” report, which says smoking claims about 480,000 lives a year.
That’s roughly 1 in 5 American deaths.
And the deaths aren’t limited to smokers. The CDC says exposure to secondhand smoke kills 41,000 Americans annually.
All of which costs the country $150 billion a year in lost productivity, according to the Surgeon General’s office.
Getting employees to stop smoking can help lower costs and raise productivity.
“Workplace-based interventions could represent a sound economic investment to both employers and the society at large,” write the authors of a paper published by the National Institutes of Health, who find benefits from such programs could outweigh costs by nearly 9 to 1 and generate annual employer savings of between $150 and $540 per nonsmoking employee.
The good news is the majority of smokers want to stop – and many have. Since 2002, former smokers actually outnumber current smokers. In 2015, 68% of adult smokers said they wanted to quit, and in 2018, 55.1% said they’d tried to quit in the past year.
The best way to succeed, the evidence shows, is a quality smoke-cessation program – and employers can help workers access such programs.
CDC statistics suggest that offering quality private health coverage helps people quit. Smoking rates are lower – only 10.7% – among adults with private insurance than among the uninsured (22.5%), those with Medicaid (24.9%), and those with other forms of public insurance (17.8%).
Capital Blue Cross makes a difference by offering many members free preventive smoking-cessation services. Many of Capital’s employer-group plans include:
- One 180-day or two 90-day treatment regimens, with a valid prescription, of a variety of tobacco-cessation products.
- Counseling sessions with experts trained to help people stop smoking.
- Access to online resources about tobacco-related health issues and treatments.
- A 24-7 nurse line for confidential support and advice.
A lot of work remains in the battle to beat smoking. But effective smoking-cessation programs are a great place to start.
“What we know works to prevent smoking initiation and promote quitting,” the Surgeon General’s office says, “includes … easy-to-access cessation treatment and promotion of cessation treatment.”