Smoking Will Continue To Be Snuffed Out

Remember smoking sections on airplanes? It’s hard to imagine now for most of us, especially for young travelers who never flew in those days. And to think, back in the early 1990s when Delta Airlines made the bold move to become the first U.S. carrier to ban smoking on all flights, there were thousands of Americans who simply couldn’t imagine having to fly without a cigarette. Delta assumed they’d lose as much as 10 percent of their business because of it. Of course, in hindsight, it was a move that only made them stronger.

Now fast-forward 20 years to find another similarly groundbreaking decision made by a U.S. corporation. In February, we watched the major retail pharmacy CVS announce it would no longer carry tobacco products nationwide. The cost of the decision was an estimated $2 billion in revenue. The company’s CEO said it was “the right thing to do,” as CVS is positioning itself to play a greater role in the healthcare delivery system.

We couldn’t agree more.

We at Baylor Scott & White Health thank Delta for being pioneers 20 years ago, and we thank CVS for giving us a more recent example that companies can choose to do what’s right over the bottom line.

We went out on a similar limb back in the fall of 2011 by deciding to become the first major employer in North Texas to stop hiring nicotine users. Some questioned whether our move would be legally challenged. Others assumed it would hurt our ability to attract talent. But just like CVS, we were confident that as healthcare leaders, we also had to be role models. And we too viewed our stance on tobacco as an investment in the future of our system, our employees, and our communities—any shorter-term opportunity costs were worth it.

Now, more than two years after the decision, the move is just a piece of our history, much like smoking sections in planes.

So how has the decision impacted our organization? Just 2 percent of our applicants have had their application process stopped after they identified themselves as tobacco users, and 2 percent have been offered jobs and had the offer rescinded after they tested positively for nicotine use. As far as the number of applications we receive in total, the no–nicotine policy has had no impact. And most importantly, smoking in our employee population is now down 33 percent to just around 6 percent. We are certainly healthier today.

The calls we get weekly from other organizations seeking advice are just more proof that this is a movement still on the rise.

Companies in various industries, not just healthcare, are looking to adopt policies to charge premium surcharges to medical plan participants who use nicotine, or they’re looking to implement nicotine-free hiring policies.

Also based on inquiries we’re receiving, we are right now working to create a tobacco cessation program, similar to our own, for other organizations to offer their employees.

We are an active voice in the communities we serve, offering support for smoke-free ordinances. Do you know 74 percent of Texas voters now favor a statewide law that would prohibit smoking in all indoor workplaces and public facilities? Such a law would result in an estimated $404 million in healthcare and productivity savings to the state’s economy biennially.

But it’s not those figures that we find most impressive, it’s the success stories from the employees we’ve helped quit–stories from grandmothers who’ve used our smoking cessation program to quit for their grandchildren, longtime smokers who have gone from a pack a day to running marathons. It’s those stories that remind us that bold changes aren’t just groundbreaking and historic, they can be lifesaving.

And there’s more work to do.

Joel Allison is CEO of Baylor Scott & White Health.

Posted in Expert Opinions, Innovation.