Workers get help kicking the habit
Driven by skyrocketing health-care costs, a deluge of anti-smoking TV commercials, health and wellness programs and tobacco-cessation campaigns now are an ever-present fixture in Alabama.
With definitive links established between smoking and higher health-care costs, many companies are instituting health and wellness programs to reduce their exposure to the rapidly rising costs.
"Smoking is one of the top three risk factors that impact the top three chronic diseases in Alabama, those being cancer, heart disease and diabetes," said Lori Blanton, Alabama health system director for the American Cancer Society.
In 2003, the U.S. spent nearly $1.7 trillion in health-related expenses, enough money to buy the parent company of tobacco giant Phillip Morris 10 times over at current market prices.
So employers offering health insurance to their employees take a hit any time health-care costs increase. That's why so many are trying to stomp the pungent habit out of the workplace.
Amy Sawyer, a spokeswoman for International Paper, which has mills in Prattville and Selma, said they encourage employees to live healthier lifestyles through environmental health and safety programs, and health and safety fairs.
Kim Biles of Montgomery said smoking regulations at her workplace, a local restaurant, have affected several aspects of business.
"We have to go outside to smoke, and that means we're not inside taking care of the customers," Biles said. "Customers who smoke are coming in less, and the nonsmokers who were going to come in to make up for it haven't been coming in either."
Dr. Alan Blum, director of the University of Alabama Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society, said a successful cessation program has to address the root problem of tobacco addiction, something he said America is failing at today.
"Just because you banned it inside doesn't mean the problem has gone away," Blum said.
Blum is a pioneer in anti-smoking campaigns and is a featured speaker on the topic throughout the states. When he started in the late 1970s, "to talk to people about smoking was to risk offending them; it was their personal lifestyle," he said.
Today, there is a steady stream of anti-smoking literature and corporate pressure to stop smoking, tobacco smokers say.
In many cases, smokers are required to light up in designated areas. Some organizations, including the state of Alabama, are starting to charge their employees if they smoke.
State employees who use tobacco began seeing higher insurance rates Oct. 1, a decision made by the state Legislature. The state also has implemented a cessation program to help reduce smoking.
"With our tobacco-cessation program, any medications that you want to obtain to help you quit using tobacco products are covered under the prescription drug program," said Deborah Unger, clinical director for the State Employee Insurance Board. "Even if someone wants to try hypnosis to quit smoking, a portion of that is covered."
The state also is offering incentives to encourage employees to see physicians on a regular basis.
Sherry Pierson, an employee at Alabama Bonding Co., she disagrees with policies that take into account someone's smoking status. She still is allowed to smoke at work.
"There are a lot of people who've died of lung cancer who have never smoked," Pierson said. "And they shouldn't charge more for that."