If you think workplace smoking reduction programs are taking a backseat to fighting obesity, Amy McAllister, a tobacco cessation expert and director of product management at Provant Health Solutions, might advise you to think again.

“In the past two years, there has been an increase in clients that we’re working with [on combatting tobacco use],” McAllister says. America’s weight issues might be the primary driver of medical costs, she acknowledges, but health is a total-body issue, and, besides, plenty of employers are forcing the issue.

“So many companies … are becoming 100% smoke-free,” McAllister tells Employee Benefit News, “so they’re trying to provide their employees with an option to be smoke-free.”

McAllister says more companies are testing for tobacco and using both carrots and sticks as “incenting the tobacco program.” For one of her clients, “there’s a $350 surcharge if someone uses tobacco.”

“Participation rates are higher with an incentive program, there’s no question about that,” she says. “Everyone knows that they have to stop, but they are much more apt to participate when there is an incentive.”

Provant itself is not as stringent as to demand smoke-free, only to hope and plan for it. Tobacco reduction might be more accurate than tobacco cessation, at least as a stop-gap, and any decrease is of course good news.

“Success is not only when people quit — obviously that’s our ultimate goal — but we also focus on tapering down,” McAllister says. “So if someone starts a program at 20 cigarettes day, and they go down to 10 cigarettes a day, then that is successful, because the more they taper, the more they get close to quitting.”

With a product as habit-forming as tobacco (“as strong as a cocaine addiction,” McAllister says), Provant welcomes any improvement and certainly encourages employers to help smokers start on the path to their last cigarette. Sometimes a workplace push could be just what a lifelong Camel fan needs.

“We all know that there are those people who one day wake up and they stop smoking and they never smoke again, and they don’t do anything — they just do it cold turkey and that’s the way,” McAllister says. “But my experience is … most people taper down, most people need some type of support. And then once they get to that ready stage is when they’re most successful.”

But really — the focus is actually more on obesity these days, right?

“I would say it’s equally a concern for most companies,” she says. “The focus is certainly tobacco and there’s definitely a concern with obesity,” she adds, but getting someone to exercise often is a great way to help them quit smoking, as well as lose weight.

Read more about McAllister’s work and smoking-cessation efforts in the Dec. 1 EBN.

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