Why Employees Need You to Butt In about Tobacco Use

Why Employees Need You to Butt In about Tobacco Use

When it comes to employee tobacco use, many employers seem to take a contradictory approach: Expect change but stay hands-off.

You’ll likely hear phrases like, “People who smoke don’t really want to quit,” or “Smoking is just part of some people’s lifestyle and I don’t want to nag them, they get hassled enough.”

Respecting employee privacy is important, but by avoiding discussions about tobacco use and quitting, you may be depriving them of a life-altering and life-saving opportunity to live tobacco free.

Addiction vs. habit

That’s because tobacco use is not a habit or “lifestyle,” it’s a tenacious and demoralizing addiction that most tobacco users want to quit—but lack the support and resources they need.

Tobacco addiction is a tenacious and demoralizing addiction that most tobacco users want to quit—but lack the support and resources they need.

There’s a major difference between a habit that can have negative impacts on short-term health—such as scrolling social media before bed or sitting too much during the day—and tobacco use, which is an addiction.

Habits can be tweaked through a moderate amount of willpower and a few simple changes, such as putting your phone in another room at night or setting a timer to get up for a quick walk every few hours.

Tobacco addiction is far more powerful, both biologically and psychologically. Relying on willpower simply doesn’t work. Thinking that “people who want to quit would have done so already” ignores facts like these:

Each year, nearly 70% of adult smokers in the U.S. say they want to quit and 62% of e-cigarette users plan to quit

More than half of all smokers try to quit each year, though few access proven resources

Many smokers make 6+ quit attempts before succeeding

• Most smokers relapse within just 8 days of trying to quit on their own

• Because of the way addiction works, relapse to smoking can happen at any time, even after years of abstinence

What addiction looks like

Every day in our EX Community, current and former tobacco users share their frustrations and struggles. The ability to post anonymously allows our members to share how much nicotine addiction controls their lives.

For example, one woman wrote: “I am 34 weeks pregnant and am absolutely disgusted with myself for still smoking.” Another user wrote that he wakes up every hour or two to take puffs off his JUUL. He notes, “This is scaring the pants off me. I’m desperate to stop and I truly don’t know how. I’ll try anything.”

When combined, these facts and personal experiences add up to one big message: It’s time for employers to butt in with compassion, empathy, and proven resources.

That’s not just because of the significant productivity and healthcare costs that come with employees using tobacco—although those can be notable—but simply because employees need your help.

See this short video for more ideas on how to compassionately butt in about employee tobacco use.

To see the entire 30-minute webinar, see 4 Rules to Break to Impact Addiction in the Workplace.

Next steps to help stop employee tobacco use

Expressing the desire to help employees is helpful, but it’s also crucial to ensure you have the right tools available. For example, evidence-based treatment has been shown to double success rates, and programs that are tailored to employee preferences can keep them engaged.

That means providing options like:

FDA-approved medications and behavioral counseling that increase the likelihood of successfully quitting smoking, particularly when used in combination.

Interactive web and text message programs that are recommended by the Surgeon General.

A digital solution that allows workers to connect with a tobacco treatment expert discreetly on their phones at lunch or receive on-demand texts that can help them manage cravings or other withdrawal symptoms.

An incentive for participation, such as lower health insurance premiums

Comprehensive communication for managers that explains available programs.

As an employer, you want your workforce to know that they have your support and that includes compassion, not judgment.

With addiction, acknowledgement matters. Avoiding the subject will only make tobacco users feel more stigmatized and ignored. Bringing tobacco use out of the shadows and into a compassionate conversation can go a long way toward helping your employees quit for good.

Interested in learning more about how to help employees stop tobacco use? See Novel Approaches: What Science Says Helps People Quit Tobacco.


Amanda Graham Ph.D.

Chief Health Officer

Dr. Amanda Graham leads the Innovations Center within Truth Initiative. The Innovations Center is dedicated to designing and building leading digital products for tobacco cessation, including the EX Program. She is internationally recognized as a thought leader in web and mobile quit-smoking interventions and online social networks and has been awarded over $15 million in research funding. She has published over 115 peer-reviewed manuscripts and serves on National Institutes of Health study sections and numerous journal editorial boards. Graham is Professor of Medicine (adjunct) at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science.

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