Tobacco-free group urges firms to snuff out smoking
The Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii, an independent organization in the islands whose sole mission is to reduce tobacco use, is telling Hawaii's employers that they should make employee smoking their company business.
The coalition, which was a key driver in the passage of Hawaii's Smoke-Free Law, is now launching an initiative called "Make It Your Business." The $50,000 initiative, which will begin in the fall, encourages companies to reduce the impact of tobacco in the workplace by funding smoking cessation programs or ensuring that they are covered by insurance.
The Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii, which worked with chief executives and human resources people to push for smoke-free workplaces, now wants to work toward a tobacco-free work force, said Deborah Zysman, executive director of the coalition.
"We aren't saying fire your smokers, but we are saying that they are costing you a lot of money," Zysman said, adding that smokers tend to be less productive in the workplace and to have higher rates of absenteeism due to illness or family illness.
However, employers need to provide counseling and medical support to their smoking workers if they want to increase the odds that they'll quit the habit, she said. Hawaii's smoking cessation program enrollment tends to be pretty low -- and that's a concern, since "most people fail when they quit cold turkey," Zysman said.
"Smoking is more addictive than heroin," she said. "Participating in a smoking cessation program doubles a person's chances of quitting."
More than 1,200 deaths a year in Hawaii are attributed to tobacco use, which also costs employers an estimated half a billion dollars a year in health-care costs and employee absenteeism, Zysman said.
"It's astronomical when you think about it," she said, adding that for most Hawaii companies the costs to be proactive will pencil out.