The road to smoking cessation often entails multiple quit attempts, punctuated by the disappointment of relapse. For smokers navigating this difficult path, cessation support and services should be offered in the place that they spend most of their time—which, in many instances, is the workplace. In the United States, about 22.8% of men and 18.3% of women workers currently smoke. Tobacco use rates range across various industries, from 11% among employees in education services to 34.3% among those who work in construction. For these individuals, time on the job could be used to receive cessation advice or assistance. Such interventions can be organized to fit into the work environment and work schedule, providing smokers an accessible opportunity to begin their path to quitting.
By offering smoking cessation programs in the workplace, employers can improve both the health and the productivity of their staff. Research finds that smokers have lower work performance due to the time spent smoking, suffer a disproportionate number of occupational injuries, and tend to be more absent due to smoking-related diseases. As such, employers stand to benefit from providing cessation assistance. Such programs can be implemented through smoke-free or health insurance policies in the workplace. An employer can, for example, couple a cessation program with an insurance policy that incentivizes quitting via lower premiums.
Smoking cessation interventions, such as nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs), prescription medications (e.g. varenicline and buproprion), and tobacco harm reduction products have been shown to have some efficacy in helping smokers quit. In the workplace, these tools may be particularly effective when coupled with other strategies to promote cessation. For example, researchers have found that when free cessation aids are provided in combination with workplace financial incentives, smokers achieve higher abstinence rates than when they receive cessation aids alone. Financial incentives for smoking cessation were also found to save employers money.
Of course, cessation incentives needn’t be purely financial. A recent article, published by researchers from the University of Catania, found encouraging results among smokers who participated in motivational interviewing (MI) in the workplace. The study suggests that MI—a collaborative approach that supports the smoker’s autonomy to change—yields significantly higher quit rates than Very Brief Advice (VBA). Still, it is difficult to ascertain the true effectiveness of the technique without further research beyond the trial setting.
Employees in any position can potentially help their colleagues quit smoking. By placing the smoker at the center of the discourse and affirming their intentions regarding cessation, co-workers can greatly influence the behavior of their peers. Approaches for assisting colleagues include: empathetically discussing the detrimental outcomes of continued smoking; sharing motivational quitting journeys from former smokers; applying positive peer pressure; giving coworkers the needed emotional and physical space when they are down; and maintaining positivity throughout the quitting process. These actions can provide the needed behavioral triggers for smokers to start changing their habits and make their way to cessation. This type of support can be particularly valuable to smokers who are enduring the cessation journey alone, or who have difficulty making time for an appointment with their physician.
Smoking cessation techniques can be applied in many ways and at places besides work. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more critical than ever to provide assistance to smokers who are working remotely or are displaced from their jobs. To this end, researchers have found that smoking cessation programs can be administered at yoga studios, outdoor smoking locations, and food pantries. Further, innovative mobile applications can support smokers in the comfort of their home. In these challenging times, it is indeed vital to explore the full spectrum of smoking cessation options, including tactics that provide support in a socially distant manner. Throughout this pandemic and beyond, the Foundation will continue its efforts to fund projects that examine novel smoking cessation techniques to achieve its mission of ending smoking in this generation.
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"No one has ever approached [the doctors] with such a request: to participate in a study intended, shockingly, to explore issues re women and tobacco in southern India. And that, I explain to them, is exactly why I am doing it."
-- Dr. Sree T. Sucharitha
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