Smoking isn’t just a bad habit—it’s an addiction. While it’s easy for nonsmokers to question the moral culpability of smokers, we must remember that people who use tobacco are physically and emotionally dependent on it. We may not get it, but it is our responsibility to help.
The tobacco use epidemic is at a crossroads: nicotine addiction, affecting 14% of adults, is now recognized as a chronic, relapsing condition that claims thousands of life-years annually. Meanwhile new forms of nicotine delivery are a heterogeneous and evolving mix of products attracting new and younger users.
As employers, health plans, care providers, parents and citizens we should (1) strongly encourage and support the 70% of adult smokers who want to quit, and (2) prevent the spread of vaping across Gen Z, the workforce of tomorrow.
Most large employers have relevant benefits and policies already in place:
- Tobacco-free campuses with policies that include vaping as well as all forms of tobacco; and
- Evidence-based cessation programs that combine behavioral counseling with nicotine-replacement therapy (NRT).
In addition, some companies do not hire tobacco users (in states where this policy is legal), while others apply a tobacco use surcharge to health premiums.
Smoking Cessation: A Report of the Surgeon General, released in January, offers the latest data on smoking and resources for cessation. Successful quit attempts are more likely when:
- Counseling is effective - particularly when mode of delivery (telephone, web-based, text message) and messaging are appropriate to the user;
- Both long-acting (e.g. patch) as well as short-acting (e.g. lozenge) forms of nicotine replacement are offered; and
- Multiple quit attempts are covered.
Quitting helps at any age or stage of illness and can add as much as a decade to life expectancy. It’s critical for employers, plans and health professionals to continue the battle against smoking. Introducing new standards to lower nicotine levels in tobacco and vaping products to minimally addictive or non-addictive levels could have major impact. In the meantime, we need collective action to prevent the growth of vaping and support quitting across all users.
Business Group Resources
- The Business Case for Tobacco Cessation
- Roadmap to a Global Tobacco-Free Company
- Large Employers’ Approach to Tobacco and Vaping in 2019