Employers are rapidly expanding wellness programs, and specifically tobacco cessation, as a strategy to combat increasing health care costs.

Almost all employers that have implemented tobacco cessation, coaching and/or nicotine replacement therapy offer an incentive and penalty, says Dr. Mary Kaye Sawyer-Morse, director of health management at Wausau-based UMR, a national third party administrator for self-funded health benefit plans. But, they vary depending upon the program. Some groups reward employees as soon as they sign a statement vouching that they are tobacco-free on a certain date. "Since this is a recognized label document this holds [the employee] accountable," and health insurance companies observe this person as a smoke-free employee, she says.

Meanwhile, a handful of UMR's programs that have been established for a few years conduct worksite nicotine testing. Sawyer-Morse explains, however, that this testing isn't fool-proof if employees still use nicotine patches to help them quit.

Some programs offer employees a $50 or $100 incentive as soon as an employee says they are nicotine-free, and then a larger amount at the end of a six month or year period if they stay nicotine-free. "As humans, employees have to receive the incentive quickly for it to be associated with behavior change," she says.

Exercise decreases nicotine cravings, says Sawyer-Morse. Increasing the fruit and vegetable consumption in a smokers' daily diet can also decrease the nicotine pleasure sensation for a smoker struggling to quit, according to the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research, published by Oxford Review.

Employers can also help employees fight the cravings, from implementing an exercise program throughout the work day to adding healthier snacks to the worksite vending machines. Avoid alcohol, salty foods and caffeine specifically, Sawyer-Morse says, as they increase the pleasure factor of nicotine.




Advice From The Top

In a keynote panel at the 7th Annual Employee Benefit Adviser Summit in Phoenix, "What the Best Do Best: Benefit Practices at the 'Best Companies to Work for in America,'" four of the ten best companies in the country shared how benefits helped them reach the prestigious list.

If we can't do [child care benefits] for everybody, we aren't going to do it just for the headquarters people. ... [Rather,] we give them the tools to go out and find great providers.

Shari ConAway, Director, People, Southwest Airlines


We've tried to expand the view of benefits way past what would normally be considered a benefit package. What we've done, our philosophy, is centered around how do we make everyone's job easier?

Kevin Ricklefs, VP of Administration, CHG Healthcare Services


We feel that it is really important to be open and honest and communicate with your employees. That's part of being a best company to work for ... you build that kind of trust between management and all of those employees. We tell them everything.

Cathy Benton, Chief Human Resources Officer, Alston & Bird


Transparency is the best policy and we don't just tell employees about what's happening with regards to benefits, we make information available on all our financials so they know where their money is going.

Shirley Bullard, Chief Administrative Officer and VP of Human Resources, The Ken Blanchard Companies

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