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Stopping Smoking in the Workplace Continues to Be a Challenge

CHICAGO, July 23 /PRNewswire/ -- A new survey of employers by the non-profit Midwest Business Group on Health (MBGH) finds the new Illinois smoking cessation law, the Smoke-free Illinois Act*, helps companies and their employees overcome some barriers, but removing smoking from the worksite is still a challenge.

MBGH conducted its second annual Smoking Cessation Survey in June of this year to gauge the level of employer involvement in reducing tobacco use among workers. The survey, which obtained more than 50 responses from primarily Midwest, self-insured businesses, was sent by MBGH and other business coalitions to their self-funded members and asked employers about their smoking cessation policies and benefits, use of local resources, measures of success and the impact of state laws prohibiting smoking in the workplace.

Tobacco use is a major health and economic problem for employers and their workers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, employee and dependent tobacco use costs U.S. companies an estimated $167 billion each year in direct medical costs and lost productivity due to morbidity. Smoking costs businesses even more when absenteeism, lost productivity due to smoke breaks and workers compensation claims are included. Lost productivity is 75% higher for smokers versus non-smokers and annual workers compensation costs are up to 12 times higher for smokers than non-smokers.

"We wanted to help employers see what others were doing to address the medical and economic impact of smoking among their employees and dependents," said Larry Boress, president and CEO of MBGH. "While not statistically credible, the survey provides a directional perspective of the challenges faced and approaches used by employers to prohibit smoking at the workplace.

The survey found:

-- Employers are increasingly offering both counseling and prescription drug coverage for those seeking to stop smoking, with 7% of employers covering all costs

-- Over a quarter of employers have or will have reduced premiums for those who do not smoke in the next one-two years

-- Of those employers that reduce premiums for non-smokers, only 20% actually verify a person's status as a smoker, while most take the individual's word that they don't smoke

-- About 55% of employers take advantage of their employee assistance plan, health plan or wellness vendor for smoking cessation programs and counseling, 15% use on-site professionals, and only 15% utilize community resources

-- While most Illinois employers who offer smoking cessation benefits had them prior to the new state law, having the law allowed employers to overcome union contracts and other barriers to implementing a non-smoking policy throughout their Illinois locations

-- Less than half who offer programs know the level of participation

-- Less than 10% know how many people who are in their programs actually quit smoking

-- Less than 5% of employers measure smoking's impact on workforce productivity

-- Less than 5% track the ROI of their programs beyond employee testimonials and comments

-- About one-quarter of Midwest employers still allow smoking in designated areas or have not adopted smoking cessation policies

In comparing the 2008 survey to one conducted of its members in 2007, MBGH found:

-- More employers adopt policies on smoking cessation as more state-wide bans on smoking take effect

-- More employers utilize local resources and on-site professional counselors

-- More employers offer over six counseling sessions, based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines

-- Employers still don't know the impact of smoking cessation efforts on productivity or return on investment

-- Employers are still unsure of how many smokers are participating in programs

-- An increasing number of firms are dropping cost-sharing for employees

"While more employers recognize the negative impact of smoking on employee health, organizations that offer smoking cessation programs need to do a better job of promoting, monitoring and measuring programs, include dependents in program design, and encourage smokers to take advantage of no-cost community-based resources," noted Boress.

About the Midwest Business Group on Health

The Midwest Business Group on Health (MBGH) is one of the nation's leading business groups of private and public employers. MBGH's 90+ members employ over 2 million lives, spending more than $2.5 billion on health care benefits on an annual basis. Organized as a nonprofit, tax-exempt corporation, MBGH offers employers a variety of health benefit educational seminars, networking opportunities, quality and community initiatives, demonstration projects and group purchasing programs. MBGH is a member of the National Business Coalition on Health.

* Effective January 1, 2008, the Smoke-free Illinois Act prohibits smoking in virtually all public places and workplaces, including offices, theaters, museums, libraries, educational institutions, schools, commercial establishments, enclosed shopping centers and retail stores, restaurants, bars, private clubs and gaming facilities.

SOURCE Midwest Business Group on Health
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