The Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce and FloridaWorks’ first Company ‘Lifestyle’ Series was all about how instituting a tobacco-free facility can save companies both time and money, with presentations by Tobacco Free Alachua and Sandvik Mining.
Marilyn Headley, a Tobacco Free Alachua tobacco prevention specialist and health policy specialist with the Alachua County Health Department, said that 70 percent of tobacco users report wanting to quit, but a common barrier to quitting is a lack of knowledge about the options available to them.
A tobacco-free grounds reduces temptations, she said, reduces the number of cigarettes smoked by employees and limits the exposure to secondhand smoke experienced by nonsmoking employees.
Tobacco use, Headley said, can profoundly affect profitability. A recent private-sector study, she said, found that smoking can cost companies $6,000 per employee every year in health care costs and productivity losses. Three 15-minute breaks per day equal an average week off every year for employees who smoke, she said.
An exercise that Headley had participants do was to take a company with 50 employees and calculate the estimated health care costs with an Alachua County smoking rate of 14.5 percent by multiplying results by an estimated productivity loss of $4,056 and an estimated lost medical cost of $2,056. The result was an estimate of almost $45,000 per year.
Headley said that offering health benefits is one of the most effective ways to help an employee quit, which can translate into reduced costs year-over-year for health care. Providing counseling and nicotine-replacement therapies can double or triple an employee’s chances of quitting.
Headley said that Tobacco Free Alachua recommends employers provide access to medication that would help employees quit, provide for four sessions of counseling and cover two or more attempts to quit per year.
On July 1, Sandvik Mining’s grounds went tobacco free, including dip, cigarettes, e-cigarettes and snus tobacco packets. Ellen Everett, the human resources coordinator for Sandvik spoke to the attendees about the change that the company has seen since July.
Sandvik installed an on-site gym and instituted an Employee Assistance Program to help staff quit.
“There are employees who want to quit, and you’re giving them the resources to do that,” said Ellen Everett, human resources coordinator for Sandvik Mining, adding that morale in the company is good, though there has been slight pushback. “But we’re not telling them ‘You have to quit,’ we’re just telling them ‘You can’t do it here.’”
Sandvik’s tobacco-free initiative, which also applies to visitors and vendors, the company said in a release, began in January with announcements, quit-tips and communication about the policies and resources in place to support employees. To develop this new policy, Sandvik Alachua worked closely with Tobacco Free Alachua.
Six smoking cessation courses were held on site. In the courses, participants received a one-month supply of Nicotine Replacements (NTRs) like nicotine gum, lozenges or patches at no charge to them. Attendees also received information and support tools designed to transition the user to non-user.
When the announcement was made, Brian Yates, an assembler at Sandvik Alachua, saw it as an opportunity.
“I’ve been smoking since I was 17,” Yates said. “I’m 43 now. My work was giving me the resources to quit, and it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.”
Yates attended smoking cessation classes along with 33 fellow employees. He received the NTRs, but said cinnamon toothpicks are the tool that works for him and a lot of others. They have since reordered the toothpicks on their own.
Other companies that have gone tobacco-free in Alachua County include Enterprise Rent-A-Car, AvMed, The Village Retirement Community and several bars, including The Bull, Half Cork’d and Tall Paul’s Brew House. The entire University of Florida campus became tobacco-free in 2010 and it offers a free smoking cessation program to all employees.