Best Practice Spotlight:
Legacy is Working Toward Smoker-Free Workplaces
As AICR’s Cancer Risk Awareness Survey has shown (see cover story, Separating Cancer Fears from Facts), most Americans are aware of the relationship between tobacco use and cancer. For smokers addicted both physically and emotionally to nicotine, however, awareness doesn’t always translate into the ability to stop smoking, no matter how strong the intention.
According to the Partnership for Prevention’s Action to Quit tobacco control initiative (www.actiontoquit.org), employers should encourage smoking cessation for a number of reasons:
- The majority of secondhand smoke exposure occurs not only in homes, but also in workplaces.
- Employees who smoke have much higher rates of absenteeism.
- Tobacco use is the leading contributor to worker lost production time.
- Smoking has serious health consequences.
- Pregnant smokers are at increased risk for miscarriage, premature birth, and low birth weight – all of which impact medical costs. Smoking during pregnancy also increases the risk of stillbirth.
While a growing number of employers have adopted policies against hiring smokers, that is not the answer, says William Furmanski, Senior Vice President for Collaboration and Outreach for Legacy (www.legacyforhealth.org), a Washington, DC-based national public health organization dedicated to helping people live longer, healthier lives through tobacco prevention and cessation. To help employees who smoke become ex-smokers (like Legacy’s own CEO!), more and more workplaces are establishing work-based cessation programs.
“Employers are right to discourage smoking among their employees,” says Furmanski, pointing out that smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the US, resulting in more than 400,000 premature deaths every year.
But, rather than refusing to hire smokers, Legacy believes that employers can make a real contribution to the public’s health – and manage their costs at the same time – by enforcing smoke-free workplaces, including no-smoking zones outside of their buildings, and helping employees who smoke to quit. Comprehensive cessation programs which add only a few dollars annually to insurance costs per covered employee help smokers quit and achieve both short-term and long-term savings for employers.
Legacy even offers a free online campaign, Become An EX (www.BecomeAnEx.org) which encourages smokers to approach quitting smoking as “re-learning life without cigarettes.” The evidence-based plan helps smokers prepare for a quit attempt by:
- “Re-learning” their thinking on the behavioral aspects of smoking and how different smoking triggers can be overcome with practice and preparation;
- “Re-learning” their knowledge of addiction and how medications can increase their chances for quitting success; and
- “Re-learning” their ideas of how support from friends and family members can play a critical role in quitting.
The BecomeAnEX website also features an online community for smokers to share their successes and challenges with each other; weekly blog posts from Mayo Clinic’s quit-smoking expert Dr. Richard Hurt; and a mobile app to provide smokers with on the-go quit-smoking help to beat their cravings and stay on track with their quit plan. You can also follow daily posts on Facebook (www.Facebook.com/BecomeAnEX) as well as on Twitter (www.twitter.com@TheEXTeam).
Since its launch in early 2008, more than 3 million visitors have visited the website and more than 600,000 smokers have registered to “Become AnEX.”
“Most smokers say they want to quit, but only about five percent are successful long-term,” says Furmanski, a fact that shows that while smokers may know why they should quit, they just don’t know how. BecomeAnEx can help them do just that.