Companies Get Preventative on Smoking to Cut Health Costs
> 10/26/2007 12:20:55 PM

If there's one place that looming healthcare costs are taken seriously above all others, it is in the world of business. To well-run corporations and companies, healthcare isn't some abstract threat off on the horizon, but instead, health costs figure directly into the bottom line. Simple cost-benefit calculations demonstrate that businesses interested in growth will be rewarded for effectively preventing future health expenditures. Today, the New York Times examined one very specific way that some companies, including the U.S. Postal Service, are going about this task. By encouraging employees to quit smoking, and then providing the means by which to do so, many companies see themselves saving large sums in the long term.

Early in the story, the paper discusses some of the financial equations, and for businesses of any size the numbers could be quite staggering:

For businesses, it is a bottom-line calculus. Spending as much as $900 or so to give a participant free nicotine patches and drugs to ease withdrawal, as well as phone sessions with smoking addiction counselors, can more than offset the estimated $16,000 or more in additional lifetime medical bills that a typical smoker generates, according to federal health data.

That federal figure does not count the costs of absenteeism or the drain on productivity when smokers periodically duck outside for a cigarette.

Making workplaces smoke-free was a step in the right direction, but it appears as if that was only the tip of the iceberg. According to the CDC, at least 42% of the 45 million adult smokers made an attempt to quit smoking in 2005. It's likely that even more smokers seriously consider quitting, but have yet to make an attempt. These stats should let companies know that employees are ready for this kind of forward thinking plan.

The Times mentions two programs that have tried to step in and fill companies' need for support services in relation to smoking cessation. Free & Clear uses phone counseling to support employees who are dealing with the problems associated with quitting and withdrawal. Another company, whose model mirrors some of the services offered here at Treatment Online, relies on web based community and interactive tools to provide similar support. Business would do well to start looking beyond smoking cessation though if they hope to reduce the costs of substance use and abuse. Less prevalent, but potentially more damaging to productivity, is alcohol abuse and over-use. Hungover employees may show up to work, but to what extent are they working or producing? The same could be asked of virtually every other drug, and companies need to decided to what extent substance use and abuse is hurting their business, and then react accordingly. The Times article makes it clear that companies are ready to embrace preventative measures if it means results in the bottom line. Now it's time to look at other areas that could benefit from the same treatment as smoking.

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