clearn.png
Thursday August 13th, 2020 7:01AM

Company efforts to stamp out tobacco often go up in smoke

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

WASHINGTON (AP) — U-Haul has an unusual wellness goal for 2020: hiring fewer smokers.

The truck rental company said in January it will stop hiring people who use tobacco or nicotine products in the 21 U.S. states where it is legal to do so.

Executives said the new policy, which takes effect this month, is expected to the cut company costs by improving the health of U-Haul's 30,000-person workforce.

Screening new hires for tobacco use is rare. But employers have long used financial penalties and perks to try to reduce the financial toll of tobacco-related diseases, such as cancer, heart disease and stroke.

Those carrots and sticks are part of most corporate wellness programs, which also typically aim to encourage workers to exercise, lose weight and control diseases like diabetes.

In recent years, researchers have begun rigorously studying the programs. The results show little evidence that wellness plans improve employee health or lower health care costs.

CIGARETTE EXPENSES

Smoking-related medical expenses add nearly $170 billion a year to employer and government medical expenses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Employers also lose $156 billion in lost productivity due to smoking and related health issues.

Roughly 70% of large employers offer programs to help employees quit smoking as part of their health coverage. The gold-standard approach involves counseling sessions and nicotine gums, patches and medications to control cravings.

One fourth of large firms add another penalty to push smokers to quit: an extra charge on their health premiums. The fee usually amounts to about $600 a year for workers, according to survey data from consultant Mercer, which designs corporate health and wellness plans. About 10% of employers provide other incentives, such as points that can be redeemed for prizes.

WELLNESS RETURNS?

Despite an estimated $8 billion spent on wellness programs annually, experts say they haven't been shown to deliver the long-term benefits promised.

“There isn’t any evidence that these programs actually result in people smoking less or eating less or exercising more,” said Karen Pollitz, who studies insurance and health plans at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “Some studies have picked up short-term improvements, but nothing sustained.”

Although many employers report cost-savings from wellness programs, researchers say those results are likely skewed because healthier workers are more likely to participate in the programs, boosting positive results.

A randomized 4,000-patient study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that employees enrolled in wellness programs showed no major improvements in health status or health care spending after 18 months, compared with employees who didn't participate.

An earlier study by researchers at the think tank Rand Corp. estimated wellness programs targeting lifestyle improvements generate an average savings of about $157 per employee. Those savings were almost completely wiped out by the programs' cost: $144 per person.

Supporters of wellness programs counter that it may take three to five years or more to see a return on investment. For example, tobacco-related diseases can take decades to develop.

“It takes time to find the benefits of those things and to translate them into avoided health care costs," Steven Noeldner, a Mercer executive.

EMPLOYEE IMPACT

Some researchers have theorized that the savings reported from wellness plans may simply come from shifting insurance costs onto less healthy workers. In this scenario, workers who pay higher premiums due to smoking or obesity subsidize their healthier coworkers.

Those financial penalties can hit smokers even harder since they tend to make less money and often have less generous health benefits than non-smokers.

The American Cancer Society recommends employers focus on smoke-free workplaces and comprehensive quit-smoking programs, rather than penalizing smokers with fees or exclusionary hiring practices.

“It’s helpful for a person who smokes to be in a workplace where they will receive support,” said Cliff Douglas, a vice president with the society. “If they’re not hired that could be a real missed opportunity.”

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Health, AP Business, AP Business - Personal Finance
© Copyright 2020 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
BP lays out long-term ambition to achieve net-zero emissions
Energy company BP says it aims to eliminate or offset all carbon emissions from its operations and the oil and gas it sells to customers by 2050
1:13PM ( 4 minutes ago )
The Latest: Biden team awaits black and Latino voters' input
Joe Biden's top campaign officials are arguing nothing was settled in the overwhelmingly white states of Iowa and New Hampshire because the Democratic Party's non-white base has yet to vote
12:59PM ( 18 minutes ago )
White House claims Huawei equipment has backdoor for spying
A U.S. official is charging that the Chinese company Huawei can secretly tap into communications through the networking equipment it sells globally
12:56PM ( 21 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Company efforts to stamp out tobacco often go up in smoke
Employers have long used financial penalties to try to push smokers to quit, but recent studies suggest these wellness programs may not improve workers' health or reduce employers' overall costs
12:15PM ( 1 hour ago )
Fall in new cases raises hope in virus outbreak in China
The number of new cases in China has dropped for a second straight day in the viral outbreak that has infected about 45,000 people and killed more than 1,100
10:26AM ( 2 hours ago )
2 Russians flee virus quarantine, in dismay at hospitals
Two Russian women who were quarantined for possible inflection by a new virus say they fled their hospitals this month because of uncooperative doctors, poor conditions and fear they would become infected
9:41AM ( 3 hours ago )
AP Health
Big tech fair in doubt after more companies quit over virus
The world's biggest wireless trade fair was thrown into doubt Wednesday after more big tech companies and mobile carriers including Nokia, Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom pulled out over worries about the viral outbreak from China
12:38PM ( 40 minutes ago )
Pope avoids question of married priests in Amazon document
Pope Francis has refused to approve the ordination of married men to address the priest shortage in the Amazon
12:30PM ( 48 minutes ago )
US energy chief sees business potential in Portugal project
U.S. energy chief Dan Brouillette says the American government and businesses are eyeing an Atlantic port in Portugal as a springboard for expansion and an increased presence in Europe
12:20PM ( 57 minutes ago )
AP Business
Tenet Healthcare to pay $1.4M to settle cardiac lawsuit
Tenet Healthcare and its Southern California hospital Desert Regional Medical Center will pay $1.4 million to resolve allegations that it knowingly charged Medicare for implanting unnecessary cardiac monitors in patients
3:56PM ( 21 hours ago )
Trump's $4.8 trillion budget proposal revisits rejected cuts
President Donald Trump has unveiled a $4.8 trillion election year budget plan that recycles previously rejected cuts to domestic programs to promise a balanced budget in 15 years
5:22PM ( 1 day ago )
Holiday on plastic: US credit card debt surged in December
US credit card debt rose in December by largest amount in more than 2 decades
4:09PM ( 4 days ago )
AP Business - Personal Finance
BP lays out long-term ambition to achieve net-zero emissions
Energy company BP says it aims to eliminate or offset all carbon emissions from its operations and the oil and gas it sells to customers by 2050
1:13PM ( 4 minutes ago )
The Latest: Biden team awaits black and Latino voters' input
Joe Biden's top campaign officials are arguing nothing was settled in the overwhelmingly white states of Iowa and New Hampshire because the Democratic Party's non-white base has yet to vote
12:59PM ( 18 minutes ago )
Canadian PM Trudeau raises gay rights with Senegal leader
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has raised Senegal's criminal code on homosexuality during his visit to the West African nation
12:50PM ( 28 minutes ago )
Prabal Gurung celebrates the churning creative energy of NYC
In celebration of the grit and eclectic glamour of his adopted New York City, Prabal Gurung staged his New York Fashion Week show Tuesday night at the famed Rainbow Room
12:46PM ( 32 minutes ago )
AP VoteCast: NH Democrats angry, seek alternative to Trump
Democratic voters in the New Hampshire primary were angry at President Donald Trump's administration and eager to pick the candidate most likely to oust him from office
12:40PM ( 37 minutes ago )