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It was not a surprise for MediConnect Global employees, since they had known about the company’s tobacco-free policy since May 2011. Reality, however, didn’t truly hit them until they read the eventual memo issued in September and realized they really would be giving up cigarettes for good if they wanted to keep their jobs.
“How can I do this?” MediConnect employee Marc recalls thinking. The 60-year-old had previously been to smoking cessation classes but it had never worked for him.
But MediConnect provided a six-month timeframe for employees to begin quitting, along with a comprehensive smoking cessation program to up the chances of success. And on Jan. 1, 2012, the company officially implemented its tobacco-free policy, which required employees to remain tobacco free, even on their own time.
When the deadline hit, only one employee out of about 1,000 quit over the policy.
A Focus on Health
Based on current cigarette smoking patterns, an estimated 25 million Americans who are alive today will die prematurely from smoking-related illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In part because of this grim reality, health-related companies are on the cutting edge of tobacco cessation policies and programs. South Jordan-based MediConnect Global is a provider of medical record retrieval systems, a health information exchange and online document management systems.
“Because of the healthcare culture of our company, we want to have programs that will help people be more healthy—not just stop smoking, but be more healthy in general,” says MediConnect CEO Amy Rees Anderson. “It’s important to our values here at MediConnect.”
After observing the annual rising cost of healthcare, Anderson says she wanted to do everything she could to prevent increases for employees. “There are certain things you can control in life and there are certain things you can’t,” she says. “As a company, we decided to look at the things we could control and try to do whatever we could to help our employees.”
When the company announced the new policy, many employees were upset and emotional for several days, Anderson says. “But overall, the majority of people were really excited about it,” she says. “They viewed it as something that was going to force them to make a change. It was something they already knew they needed to do.”
In fact, emails began pouring in to Anderson last spring, thanking her for the policy that had made them do away with their cigarettes.
Marc says he smoked for 15 years and averaged a pack a day, which is 20 cigarettes, costing approximately $7.50. “The bottom line is we had six months to stop smoking,” he says. “I smoked until the last day and then quit cold turkey.”
A Plan for Success
MediConnect’s smoking cessation program, called “Beat the Pack,” was developed by Pfizer specifically for use in the workplace. The program, free to employees, consists of several sessions of five weekly meetings lasting one hour. It provides support, tools, information and materials on leading practices for quitting smoking. Employees are taught about the risks of smoking and the immediate and long-term health benefits and the financial savings of quitting. They could attend one session or attend repeat sessions if they felt that they needed extra support.
MediConnect chose an instructor, as recommended, who had been a smoker in the past but who had been able to break the habit and was currently tobacco-free. The instruction manual includes kick-off tools, weekly meeting agendas and handouts for attendees.
Marc says it was the camaraderie that worked for him—not necessarily the company’s smoking cessation class. “We all stopped smoking on the same date,” Marc says.
As with exercise or weight loss, “It’s easier to do it with friends and co-workers than to try and get healthy alone,” Anderson says. “The icing on the cake is we all feel better about ourselves. The efforts have been overwhelmingly positive.”
MediConnect now does random nicotine tests on its employees to ensure compliance.
Other local health-related companies have made strides toward encouraging employees to stop smoking and improve their health.
Humana won’t hire smokers and requires a nicotine test for candidates. Employees who don’t smoke receive a $25-per-paycheck discount on their health insurance premiums. “We want to help our members—and that includes our employees—achieve a lifetime of wellbeing. A big part of that is smoking cessation,” says Curt Howell, Humana market president for Utah, Arizona and Nevada.