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Smoking cessation programmes for employers

We all know the risks associated with smoking. Employee smoking cessation, therefore, has many benefits — from improving health, happiness and productivity, to reducing business risk and costs associated with health-related insurance claims, sick days and productivity loss1. As such, employers have much to gain by supporting staff on their journey towards quitting tobacco. This article outlines the risks of smoking and the impact on employees who smoke, as well as providing ideas for workplace smoking cessation programmes that can help them quit.

Smoking around the world

In the UK, around 16.5% of men and 13% of women smoke. In terms of professions, however, 25.5% of people in routine and manual occupations smoke, while only 10.2% in managerial and professional occupations do. In the U.S., 14% of adults are smokers, compared to 26% of adults in Luxembourg.

The UK introduced its smoking ban in 2007, which prevents anyone from smoking in public indoor spaces, such as bars and restaurants, cinemas and workplaces. This saw a decline in smoking, however, as many manual labour jobs are done outside, this goes some way to explaining why smoking is more prominent in these professions.

There are 17 countries in the European Union that have implemented comprehensive smoke-free legislation.

The risks of workplace smoking

Smoking in the workplace has several associated risks. The impact on a person’s health from smoking and tobacco use, can cause harm to their circulation, heart, brain and lungs, as well as their mouth and bones. Smoking can also create issues with reproduction and fertility. By encouraging your workforce to quit smoking, you can help them prevent these health issues – which will help productivity in the long run. With fewer workers smoking, other employees may also reduce exposure to second-hand smoke, improving the health of wider teams.

As well as increasing productivity in the long-run, organisations can save significant amounts of money by cutting down the amount of time spent on cigarette breaks. According to Ohio State University, the average American smoker costs their business $5,800 a year, caused by both medical bills and smoking breaks. However, this figure can actually range from $2,885 to $10,125 each year. According to the British Heart Foundation, smokers in the UK are costing British business £8.4bn a year, with the average employer costing their organisation £1,815.

The benefits of workplace smoking cessation

The benefits of employees quitting are clear. As well as the duty of care and peace of mind that your employees are living healthier lifestyles, fewer smokers in the workplace can save businesses. By avoiding absenteeism and presenteeism associated with smoking, organisations may save thousands every year.

With better general health, you may find your employees are also more productive and efficient. Quitting smoking can lower the blood pressure and increase oxygen levels, which in turn help the body produce more energy.

Listen to Dr Sneh Khemka, Vice President, Population Health Solutions & vHealth discussing smoking cessation in our Fit For Duty podcast episode below.

Smoking cessation programmes in the workplace

Many businesses already support smoking cessation via health and wellness programmes, which often include advice on improved nutrition, increased exercise and alcohol reduction.

Buddy system

However, as smoking is an addiction, it can be difficult to overcome, and you may want to introduce a programme to offer greater support. There is evidence to suggest that quitting with group behaviour therapy can improve quit rates, so you might develop and/or support a group or ‘buddy system’ to help employees quit.


Your cessation programme may include seminars led by experts, offering advice and guidance for your employees. Seminars could be held within your workplace, or externally. Organisations such as Allen Carr’s Easyway offer such seminars, providing around six hours with a therapist. According to the UK’s NHS, you're up to four times more likely to quit successfully with expert help and advice.

You may choose whether these seminars will take place during working hours — to increase turnout. For some, finding time during the busy working day to fit in a seminar is not easy, whereas other people may not be able or willing to spend time outside work.

Nicotine replacement therapy

Within your health plan, you could introduce nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) — offering your members of staff smoking alternatives, such as nicotine patches, gum and inhalators. A review of multiple studies showed that quitting can increases by up to 50-60% when using NRT.


According to the New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most successful ways to quit smoking is to have an incentive. If you know that having fewer employees smoking will help you financially in the long-term, why not offer your workers a reward for quitting? This could be a financial reward, such as a cash reward, improved benefits, premium discounts, waivers of cost-sharing, or simple as a milestone-achievement novelty gift, celebration or a drink after work. However, regional laws and regulations impose requirements and regulate the use of financial incentives in certain types of wellness programmes, so appropriate guidance needs to be sought.2

How to establish a smoking cessation strategy

Implementing a smoking cessation strategy within your workplace is crucial if you want to help and encourage your staff to quit. You may want to begin by identifying how many people within your workplace smoke and how many would like support to quit tobacco use. You can do this by asking employees directly or sending round health surveys. However, remember that your employees are under no obligation to reveal this information to you if they do not wish to. It is worth seeking advice on non-discrimination and privacy laws that apply with respect to employer practises relating to wellness programs and employee surveys.

The next step is to decide which cessation tactic(s) you wish to implement. If you have several people interested in quitting, you may want to hire an external organisation to run seminars for you. However, you may be more interested in supplying staff with NRT or running your own programme that rewards staff with a bonus for meeting quitting targets.

Measuring the success of a smoking cessation programme

The best health-related support programmes are integrated into a company’s culture and holistic approach to employee health and well-being. To help gauge your company’s return on investment on a smoking cessation programme, make sure you measure the quality of the programme and the outcome. This can include hard metrics, such as:

  • recording attendees at the start and end of the course
  • successful quitters over time
  • the impact to absenteeism and health-related claims.

It can also include soft metrics, such as:

  • anecdotal feedback on the content and tactics employed in the programme itself
  • participants’ emotional status and overall well-being on completion of the programme.

Interventions work best when they are specifically tailored to the needs of a workforce.

10 tactics for workplace smoking cessation

Here’s a list of 10 potential tactics that could be employed in a workplace smoking cessation programme.

  1. Hire an organisation to run a smoking cessation programme that caters to office-based and remote or international workers. This could include on-line lectures, webinars and individualised face-to-face or virtual health coaching.
  2. Implement a buddy system or office-based ‘quit smoking’ support group.
  3. Help programme attendees announce their intention to help them stay the course through colleague support.
  4. Organise activities that help quitters remain collectively motivated, such as raising money for a charity for each day, week or month that passes since their quit date.
  5. Implement an incentive programme or friendly competition to encourage and motivate programme participants.
  6. Organise nutrition and fitness talks, events or coaching to help participants maintain their overall health and well-being whilst giving up tobacco.
  7. Eliminate indoor smoking breakrooms.
  8. Set up an intranet support page to enable remote teams, as well as international or globally mobile employees to get involved, sharing their experiences, successes and stumbling blocks.
  9. Upskill your line managers to empower and enable them to motivate and guide employees towards healthier behaviours and available employee assistance resources and tools.
  10. Host question and answer sessions between employees and your HR or occupational health and wellness personnel. This can help to clarify your position on non-discrimination, workplace policies, and the support available to the smoking cessation programme participants.

No matter which strategies you choose to implement, encouraging your employees to quit smoking only stands to benefit your company, from morale to productivity.

If you’re looking for resources for your staff, why not share our quit smoking tips or things to do instead of smoking.

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