August 12, 2008

Getting Rid of Your Smoke-Filled Office

By Paul Bieber

We discussed the costs of smoking in your company. One study says that a smoker costs a company, your company, $3,500 a year in lost work productivity and increased costs. Another study says over $6,000. Whatever. It costs you and it costs your employee. Yet, you do have the opportunity to save this money, and help your employees and maybe yourself.

Don’t think of yourself as the ‘morals police’. This is not a campaign to impose your way of life on your employees, but a way to make your company more efficient and profitable. More than half of the people who try to quit smoking don’t succeed. Don’t be upset or vindictive if your employees don’t succeed. Try again next year. Don’t think of this as a waste, you have made it better for the next year’s program. Encourage the stoppers, but say nothing to the one’s who continue. An owner or manager should never belittle an employee over this.

Plan this smoking cessation carefully. To begin, announce the program will start a couple of weeks down the road. Get people used to thinking about. If you have positive reinforcement, your employees will look forward to it. Put up signs saying “Two weeks from Monday you will feel better”, or “Next Monday you will be able to breath”. Always start on a Monday, so that the employee’s time is taken up with work. If you start on a Friday, over the weekend, people will back slip. The Monday start gives them 5 days of support before they are home for the weekend.

Have your financial plan ready before you announce the program. Call your health insurance carrier and see what they cover in smoking cessation. Some pay in full. If yours doesn’t, how much is the deductible, and how much is the co-pay for the nicotine patch? Usually, the worker needs to spend between $50-$100 out of pocket. I would offer to pay this for each employee, up to a maximum point you will set. This is a small investment for a big return. On your posters, make one that says “A one-pack-a-day smoker will save $2400 a year”.

The best things you can do to initiate a smoking cessation campaign are:

1. Go to on the Internet. They offer realistic and easy tools to help. There are plenty of free booklets for you to download and hand out to your team (in English and Spanish). They offer free advice, both real world and medical, and personalize support if needed. Use the Internet or call 1-800-QUITNOW, (800-784-8669).

2. Google the phrase ‘stop smoking’, and you will find many other groups with information and help, both for the smoker, and the company trying to implement a program.

3. Be positive. Support success, don’t berate slipping back.

The best other resource you can get is to call your local chapter of the American Cancer Society (, American Lung Association (, or the American Heart Association, ( All three of these groups will definitely help you set up a great program.

Be supportive of the program. Have plenty of sweet mints and candies available. If possible have cut up carrots or celery available to munch on. This helps control the oral sensation of not having a cigarette.

Encourage the rest of the company not to smoke in front of or near someone trying to stop. For the first week or two, don’t let the employee go to job sites that are smoke filled, like restaurants or bars.

Have lots of cold water and juice available. Drinking a lot helps flush the body of nicotine quicker. The quicker it is out of the body, the easier to quit.

Avoid coffee breaks where smoking was the norm. Avoid fat-filled foods, you will gain some weight stopping smoking, and watching your diet may help offset this.

Eat slowly, so that your full meal time is taken up by eating, and you have no time for an after meal cigarette.

Exercise a lot, this helps the body rid itself of nicotine and other smoking chemicals. Find out if your health plan offers gym or health club benefits and promote this with your employees.

Post this phone number: 877-44U QUIT (877-448-7848), a live person will talk with you from the National Cancer Institutes’s free smoking quitline.

Enough for now. Remember, you as a leader can influence the outcome. Be supportive, be proactive, and you and your company will come out ahead!