July 1 signalled the end of accusing looks, dramatic coughing and suspicious sniffing; yes the days of the disapproving non-smoker are over along with the guilty pleasures of enjoying a cigarette in a public place. The ban may be a cure all for those who wish to have their oxygen supply in its purest form, but what about those that find it a little harder to kick the habit? Should bosses get involved and assist with the slapping on of nicorette patches? Annie Hayes reports on HR’s role in helping employees stay smoke free.
I won’t bore you with the policies, I’m sure by now you know all about the do’s and don’ts of what is and isn’t allowed when it comes to smoking in enclosed public places.
If, however, you are yet to be convinced that all the fuss is in a good cause, then digest the following chilling statistics which might just scare you into quitting; more so perhaps then the threat and humiliation of a £50 ban for smoking surreptitiously behind your jacket in the local.
According to No Smoking Day, 12 million adults in the UK smoke and every year around 114,000 die as a result of their addiction. Smoking kills around six times more people in the UK than road traffic accidents and causes 30 per cent of all cancer deaths.
Statistics from No Smoking Day.
Oh and it also costs a packet, excuse the pun. So you get the message, what next? I asked a number of businesses what they were doing to help their employees kick the habit.
Corporate heavyweights including Virgin, Nationwide, Xerox and Tesco are all running discounted Allen Carr Easyway programmes for their smoking workers.
According to the organisers, the course works in the opposite way to the ‘willpower’ method. It does not concentrate on the reasons the smoker should not smoke: the money, the slavery, the health risks and the stigma. Smokers know that already. Instead it focuses on why smokers continue to smoke in spite of the obvious disadvantages.
Certainly its success rate is impressive. At Allen Carr’s Easyway Clinics it is over 90 per cent based on the three month money-back guarantee and a recent independent scientific study concluded that, even after 12 months, the success rate was still over 51 per cent.
Virgin signed up after founder Sir Richard Branson noticed close friends successfully using Easyway. Branson says: “The Allen Carr method is absolutely unique, removing the dependence on cigarettes, while you are actually smoking. I’m pleased to say it has worked for many of my friends and staff.”
But for most employers, offering the Allen Carr solution is just part of an impressive package of support.
Education, carrots and hypnotists
Louise Bentham, head of reward and policy at supermarket giant Tesco, explained that the company had the benefit of hindsight and experience when tasked with helping their smokers gear up for the 1 July deadline, having already gone through the process in Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
“It was a question of fine-tuning what we’d already done. We had to make a decision about where best to invest our money. As well as offering a discounted Allen Carr programme to employees we sent out a £5 health voucher to workers in their May payslip to be spent on in-store pharmacy products. Our assistants are also trained to give advice, managers handout factsheets and we offer quick kits for self-help, packed with information.”
Louise Bentham, head of reward and policy, Tesco.
Getting buy-in from employees was also key: “Competitiveness has been building up amongst employees there has been a sense of ‘let’s beat the ban’,” remarks Bentham. The supermarket giant also offers hypnotists where staff want it.
PruHealth, the private medical insurance outfit, also parades an impressive quit smoking package. They offer a comparable solution to members and employees.
Nick Read, director of business developments and partnerships at PruHealth says: “We reward members and employees for looking after their health. We’ve partnered with a number of vitality providers in key areas including screening, education, fitness, nutrition and smoking.
For PruHealth it’s all about using incentives to encourage people to change behaviours.
“For smoking, our partner is Allen Carr and we subsidise the membership which is normally £220.00 to just £49.00. What we are effectively doing is removing the financial barriers to entry. If you are a non-smoker you earn 150 vitality points.”
Others have taken more of a cold turkey approach. At Newcastle University smoking is banned on campus altogether and with the opportunities removed smoking becomes near on impossible.
A spokesperson for the University of Warwick said they hadn’t followed Newcastle’s lead but were putting considerable force behind their no-smoking programmes:
“We were quite well ahead anyway. There’s been a total ban on smoking in buildings for some time. We run sessions with our occupational health and we circulate plenty of information including the Smokefree England publication. We also send out details on the intranet and via email. One of our problems has been whether we should have designated areas outside our buildings. We want smokers to go a reasonable distance; we don’t want smoke being blowed back into the building.”
Going a reasonable distance has proved a safety nightmare for some including Tesco’s who have had to be fairly prescriptive about going out in pairs to smoking shelters particularly for workers on night shifts.
Putting staff wellbeing first
Sarah Donnelly, HR business partner, employment practice at Surrey County Council says it’s all about putting the wellbeing of staff first. The Council employed the help of its EAP provider, Employees Advisory Resource (EAR) in the run up to the ban.
“We have continuously offered support to those who smoke out of our 33,000 employees through our EAP with EAR, providing outsourced help, support and information whenever they need it,” she comments. “We have also signposted staff to NHS services as well and always ensured we’ve had posters to direct staff members to NHS services. However, we felt the July 1st ban would be a great opportunity to encourage even more of our staff to give up.
“Additionally our occupational health provider is running about six health and wellbeing shows, and each will include smoking cessation information not aids.”
But should bosses bear the brunt of all no-smoking initiatives? Earlier this year the National Institute of Clinical Excellence suggested that they shouldn’t.
Robin Hayley managing director of Allen Carr’s Easyway.
Robin Hayley, managing director of Allen Carr’s Easyway presents the case: “It costs an average £2000 a year to employ a smoker – taking into account smoking breaks, the loss of productivity and sickness. It’s proven that smokers take more sick days then non-smokers. Smokers are always waiting to have their next fag; they are working on a shorter fuse. People in industry are deluding themselves if they think it doesn’t cost them money to have smokers.”
Hayley may have a point – 34 million working days are lost in England and Wales through sickness absence caused by smoking, according to figures from Gee Publishing.
Bentham admits it’s a tough call: “Our message is that we will help our workers to quit if the will is there. Smoking is a difficult thing to crack but we’re not just giving things away free.”
For PruHealth the incentive is clear – a healthier worker and customer is a better risk for a financial company.
Sadly not all companies are as proactive as our examples above. Indeed research by recruitment firm Manpower found that half of UK employers said the ban had made them more aware of the importance of the health and wellbeing of their workforce. But the study of more than 1,800 employers revealed that only 20 per cent were providing advice on how to quit smoking. There is a long way to go therefore before 100 per cent of UK plc get behind the initiatives that many of our leading players are rolling out.
It is clear, however, as Hayley says, that smokers can’t just be ignored, or worse demonised. If they are we expose our smokers to high levels of stress, unhappiness and soaring absence – just think of the air rage some smokers get when they have to endure a smoke-free flight. The solution it seems is for some hand-holding and financial assistance to help those that have been somewhat forced to go cold turkey since the ban came into force.