Time and time again, studies prove that tobacco is dangerous to the human body. It causes lung disease, cancer, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, premature aging, and more. In fact, nearly every organ in the body can be damaged by tobacco.

Decades of public awareness campaigns, featuring stark images of tar-stained lungs, and anti-smoking laws and court cases have all heavily influenced society’s perception of cigarette use. Consequently, the population of users has steadily decreased over the years—until recently.

According to an analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this trend may be changing. While the number of cigarette smokers continues to drop, the number of people using e-cigarette and other tobacco products is rising. Unfortunately, the total population of tobacco (and not just cigarette) users seems to be steadying out.

Data collected showed that one in five workers in the U.S. currently uses a tobacco product. By industry, tobacco use ranged from 11% of those in education, to well over 34% of workers in construction. At best, this means that any company with at least 10 employees can expect to have at least one tobacco user.

The CDC also noted that using more than one tobacco product has become more common. Using multiple products just makes it more difficult for people to quit, as well as increases risk of disease.

Out of Sight, Not Out of Mind

Anti-smoking laws, product regulations, and social stigma have all pushed smoking cigarettes out of sight, but this makes the problem more insidious. In particular, it’s vaping that has boomed in recent years. It’s easy to assume that an employee who is never seen smoking does not use tobacco. However, employers need to be concerned about all types of tobacco use, especially as trends shift.

Vaping is less restricted when it comes to use inside and around buildings, and there’s not as much of a stigma compared to cigarettes. Even for those who worry about social pressure, electronic cigarettes are easy to conceal—some are as small as a pen or flash drive. It’s an easy and quick habit to partake in on the way to lunch or in between meetings.

Encouragingly, the dangers associated with vaping continue to be more widely reported and acknowledged. However, it’s still considered a “healthier” alternative to cigarettes, despite being just as addictive.

Identifying High-Risk Groups

  • Nearly a quarter of working non-Hispanic whites (24.8%) use tobacco.
  • Men used products almost twice as much (27.4%) as women (16%).
  • Midwestern states (25.8%), followed by the South (22.9%), had the highest concentration of users.
  • Young adults under the age of 35 are most at risk, with 24.8% total users and 4.6% of them preferring e-cigarettes (compared to a 3.6% average for all age groups).
  • Construction workers had the highest prevalence of tobacco use (34.3%), and 7.1% used more than one type of tobacco.

Importantly, this isn’t an “older generation” problem of workers with a lingering addiction. The main offenders happen to be early-career professionals. Nearly a quarter of young adults use a tobacco product.

Another point of interest is that the industries with physical demands, ironically, had more users. These labor-intensive or more physically active professions in construction, food service, repair work, mining, manufacturing, and groundskeeping all report above-average use. Where activity is the most crucial to job roles, poor health can have the most pronounced effect on an employee’s quality of work and productivity.

An Overlooked Opportunity for Growth

Many employers don’t recognize tobacco as a problem, but the statistics reveal a significant issue. A study in 2013 by Gallup found that working adults who smoked cost the U.S. economy roughly $278 billion each year. Worldwide, these losses add up to a whopping $1 trillion, according to the World Health Organization. These employees take more sick days annually, have higher healthcare costs, and lose productivity with regular smoke breaks.

According to the CDC, “Paying for tobacco use cessation treatment is the single most cost-effective health insurance benefit for adults that can be provided by employees.”

Wellable offers a Smoking Cessation program, which can be applied to other tobacco use as well. It offers personalized quit plans, live chat coaching, and a supportive online community.

Incentivizing workers can also help. Some employers reward non-smokers with additional vacation days, because of the time saved not taking smoking breaks. As an added benefit, the overall decrease in workers who smoke or vape can lead to less secondhand smoke exposure for other employees.

Those without health insurance and living near or below the poverty level also had the highest rates of tobacco use. For them, a job that includes wellness benefits can greatly influence their ability to make healthy lifestyle changes. Given this information, employers are uniquely situated to encourage big changes.

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