America aims having smoke-free workers to save medical bills

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Washington, Oct 26 (UNI) Several business houses in America are conducting help-programmes to encourage their workers to stop smoking in order to reduce their medical bills.

A recent survey indicated that one-third of companies with at least 200 workers offered smoking cessation as part of their employee benefits package.

The companies have to spend as much as 900 dollars to give a participant free nicotine patches and drugs to ease withdrawal.

Phone sessions with smoking addiction counselors can cost more than the estimated 16,000 dollars including the additional lifetime medical bills that a typical smoker generates, according to federal health data.

That federal figure does not count the costs of absenteeism or the drain on productivity when smokers periodically duck outside for a cigarette, New York Times newspaper reported.

With business employers accounting for about 650 billion dollars of the nation's 2 trillion dollar annual medical bill, companies have monetary incentive to get workers leave smoking.

United Parcel Service began offering a smoking cessation program in February to the estimated 13 percent of its employees who use tobacco.

''We decided this was the time to do this,'' said UPS health and productivity manager Judy Pirnie Smith.

The Union Pacific railroad adopted the program two years ago that helped cut the smoking rate to about 17 per cent of its work force.

''Tobacco cessation has been the hot topic for the last year,'' National Business Group on Health president Helen Darling said.

The programmes are another example, along with various other corporate wellness efforts like weight management and diabetes control, of how private employers are taking health care reform into their own hands.

There are more than 44 million smokers in the United States.

The habit is blamed for 435,000 premature deaths annually, and adds more than 75 billion dollars to annual spending on health care, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

''The number of people who enroll in the programs and then slip back into smoking in the first three months is high,'' said Watson Wyatt Worldwide benefits consulting firm executive Bruce C Kelley, adding that, ''people who quit for 12 months the recidivism rate is very low.'' UNI

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