Even if you’ve never picked up a cigarette in your life, there’s a good chance you’re still paying the price of smoking–someone else’s smoking, that is. That’s the message my company was spreading among its employees this week as it announced a total ban on tobacco use at all of its locations worldwide, effective January 1, 2007.
Our company estimates that each of its 150,000 employees coughs up over $1,000 extra every year in health insurance premiums to cover the cost of tobacco-related health problems. And since each employee pays the same premium as the next, even those who don’t smoke are forced to chip in to pay for those who do.
Figures released by our executives this week went even further, claiming that more than 150 employees die each year because of smoking-related illnesses. They also pointed out that absences and disabilities caused by tobacco use are further pinching pennies from our bottom line.
Smoking Ban Brings Mixed Employee Reaction
So far, I’ve encountered two positions on the smoking ban at my workplace: those who don’t care whether there’s a ban or not (i.e. those who don’t smoke) and those who are absolutely livid over the decision (you guessed it–the smokers).
While it’s illegal to smoke in our buildings anyway because of local laws, this new policy also prohibits smoking anywhere on our property. Currently smokers can go about their business as they please as long as they’re a certain distance from the buildings. Now they’ll be forced to walk or drive across the street to light up. Some have noted concerns over a drop in productivity as smokers take extended breaks. And to paraphrase one of my smoking co-workers: “Whose stupid decision was this? I’m gonna burn this cigarette right through their [expletive] heads!”
Company to Help Smokers Kick the Habit For Free
The motives of my company’s higher-ups in instituting the workplace smoking ban are pretty transparent: they want people to quit smoking altogether. To me, it’s refreshing to see a company that is concerned over the personal behaviors of its employees, even if that concern is slightly motivated by profit. Still, plenty of smokers will see this action as unwelcome meddling, but the company has announced steps to help ease the transition.
Beginning in October, employees will be offered free smoking cessation programs to help them kick the habit. The programs will even be extended to dependents of employees looking to stop smoking. The exact nature of the cessation program has yet to be revealed, and it’s not known whether the company will assist ex-smokers in the future if they fall off the tobacco-free wagon.
Exceptions For Some Locations and Unions
Some employees of our company work at government facilities at which the idea of a smoking ban would be absolutely absurd. Such workers will be immune from the new policy since it cannot extend to locations not owned or leased by the company.
Certain unions also have agreements in place which prohibit the company from dictating smoking-related policies to its employees.
A Truly Money-Saving Strategy?
Will we see reduced health insurance premiums as a result of the company-wide smoking ban? Probably not, considering all those smokers who will continue to light up at other businesses. The company may be able to use the new smoke-free policy to negotiate its health care premiums down in future years, but I suspect employees won’t see any of the benefits in their share of the costs.
As for me, I’m happy that the walkways outside our buildings will no longer smell like ashtrays, but I suspect my productivity will be indirectly affected–not because I smoke (because I don’t) but because a lot of the people with whom I work do.