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The smoke-free workplace.

Could employers be liable for second-hand smoke?

Smoke-free workplaces have been in vogue since the fitness-crazed '80s. Soon they might become an employer's only protection from a civil suit.

In January the Environmental Protection Agency reclassified secondhand smoke as a Group A carcinogen, likening it to benzene, asbestos and radon. The report sent a lighting bolt of concern down the backs of Indiana businesses worried about their liability for secondhand smoke at work.

"I probably get three or four calls a week from businesses around Indiana," says Roger McClain, director of the Division of Health Education for the Indiana State Department of Health. "They all want to know how they can go about instituting a smoke-free policy. It's really caught on. There's quite a bit of interest out there, and rightfully so."

Workers around the country have already sued successfully for health problems due to involuntary exposure to smoke. The new Americans with Disabilities Act sets the ground for even broader protection. Employers are anxious--not only for their own legal safety, but the health of their employees as well.

As evidence continues to mount over smoking's dangers, many businesses are restricting or even banning tobacco in the workplace. These measures can ease employee health-care, reduce facility maintenance costs and prevent potential litigation.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has not issued a standard regarding secondhand smoke to date, but Frank Kane, Public Information Specialist, says that his agency anticipates a directive soon from the secretary of labor. The directive could address the issue of secondhand smoke alone or cover the total quality of indoor air. Present OSHA regulations set no limits for Group A carcinogens in the workplace.

But many businesses aren't waiting for the government. By 1991, 85 percent of American businesses had adopted smoking policies, up nearly 50 percent since 1986.

Ford Meter Box, the Wabash-based maker of waterworks equipment, is one company in the forefront. The company, which employs mostly blue-collar workers, pays for nicotine patches for its employees, and will launch a new campaign this fall to encourage smokers to quit. President Terry Agness says the program has gone well so far, and he estimates that 10 to 15 percent of his employees who smoke have kicked their habit.

The Queens Group Indiana Inc. and Oliver Trucking Co. instituted a tobacco-free workplace policy on March 29. Vice president and general manager Stanton Bryan announced the policy in January, giving employees plenty of notice. The policy covers all buildings, company-owned vehicles and surrounding property. Violators may be disciplined, and repeat offenders can be fired.

USS Gary Works, about to jump on the bandwagon, is using its employees and their unions to research a future smoke-free workplace policy.

"We're still in the fact-gathering stages. We've talked to a lot of associations like American Lung, American Cancer, and the manufacturers of Nicoderm, Nicotral, and Habitral (nicotine patches)," says Al Spajer, manager of Arbitration and Human Resource Projects. The program, expected to be in place this summer, will include smoking cessation programs at the company's Family Medical Center.

Spajer stresses that planning and input from employees and their representatives are the key to a successful program. "We simply are not just going to hang paper around this plant," he says.

Indeed, instituting a smoke-free workplace is not as easy as posting signs in the office. An employer needs to take into account the needs of his employees, both smokers and nonsmoker. Where can a businesses go for guidance when instituting a smoke-free policy?

Insurance agencies are one source. Gib Rissle, health promotion and wellness coordinator for Acrodia Business Benefits of Evansville, worked with a group of about eight employees at Plumbing and Industrial Supply of Evansville to develop a smoke-free workplace policy. Representing all levels of employees at the company, they met several times to establish a date that the workplace would go smoke-free and then developed strategies to help fellow smokers to quit.

The process at Plumbing and Industrial Supply started in mid-1991. Initially, smoking areas were designated, but these were phased out by the January 1993 quit date. Intervention and education programs were also offered.

"At one time they had about 14 smokers, and I think they have only one or two employees still smoking out of 37 total employees," Rissle says. "I think the smoke-free workplace policy has worked to help them quit."

Rissle also has been working with sports equipment maker Indian Industries to establish a smoking policy. Like many blue-collar industries, there was a high percentage of smokers on Indian's payroll, nearly 45 percent. It's down to 40 percent now and is expected to drop even more. Rissle says it's common for industry in a blue-collar area like Southern Indiana to have a 50 to 60 percent smoking population among its workers.

Smoking cessation programs will soon be an added employee benefit. The company pays for nicotine patches for its employees, with the stipulation that employees must reimburse the company if they start smoking again within a two-year period.

"Indian Industries will pay for part of the smoking cessation program as well," Rissle says. "We try to set incentive programs up in that way because it gives the employees some responsibility, and it gives them some incentive to continue on with their change."

Implementing a smoke-free program does not necessarily mean declaring war on your smokers, Rissle says. In fact, involving one's smokers is vital to hammering out a policy.

"The smokers are much tougher on themselves than non-smokers would be," Rissle says. "I strongly believe it's the way to go."

Agness agrees. "The whole thing has been very interesting because we've had several employees say, 'Why don't you make the whole place smoke-free so I can quit?'"

The power of one's work environment is well-known to Dr. Arden Christen, director of the Indiana University Nicotine Dependence Program, another resource for companies. Christen got his wisdom from none other than former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, whom he worked with on several occasions. The Surgeon General assured him that "not allowing people to smoke at work is going to help more people quit than anything," says Christen.

Patterned after the program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., IU's one-on-one program runs $200 for average smokers to $300 for heavy smokers, plus the cost of the nicotine patches and gum. A $100 fee is charged for the initial diagnostic consultation. A carbon monoxide breath analysis and a nicotine dependence/motivation questionnaire establish a smoker's profile. From the results, a 10-week program is negotiated, and a date is set for the patient to quit smoking. $25 is charged for each visit thereafter, with most patients needing between three and five follow-ups.

"We have them select a quit date, which is when they switch from getting their nicotine from cigarettes to patches and gum," Christen says. "We start them off on 21 mg. of nicotine a day (likened to smoking a pack a day) and then gradually decrease it to 14 mg. and then 7 mg. Then, they can go cold turkey from there without too much difficulty."

Dr. Christen and his associates researched smoking addiction for 10 years before starting its cessation program last year, treating some 2,700 patients with nicotine gum and more than 400 with nicotine patches.

"We've had 225 patient visits within the first six months, and we're graduating a lot of people," Christen says. "We're not setting the world on fire, but we're getting our foothold, and we're in it for the long haul."

Though it may seem expensive, the cost of offering smoking cessation programs is proving to be a cost-saving measure, not an added employee benefit expense. "Even with more than 20 people wearing the patch, I would say that this policy is a net savings, not counting the medical plan," says Agness. "The clean-up is less."

Companies spend at least $1,000 per year on each smoker due to decreased productivity and increased health-care costs. By instituting a smoke-free policy, companies incur fewer maintenance costs for computers, furniture, carpets, and, in some cases, lower premiums for life, health and fire insurance.

At least one company thinks the IU plan is worth the money. Indianapolis Water Co. is developing a policy and will offer financial assistance for employees to attend the IU Nicotine Dependence Program, says Les Williams, vice president of human resources.

Along with insurance companies and IU, area hospitals are another contact for companies interested in kicking their workers' habit. Hospitals were ordered smoke-free in January 1992 by the Joint Commission, an accreditation agency for hospitals who treat Medicare patients. Smoking by both staff and patients, excluding those in chemical addiction and psychiatric wards, will be eliminated by December 31, 1993.

The Indiana Hospital Association sponsored a task force comprised of Community Hospitals Indianapolis, St. Francis Hospital Center, Indiana University Medical Center, St. Vincent Hospitals and Health Services, Methodist Hospital of Indiana, and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. The task force compiled a 30-page booklet with up-to-date statistics on the harmful effects of smoking, describing the economic benefits of a smokeless facility. It outlines sample smoke-free policies and offers strategies for implementing policies.

In addition, area hospitals offer a number of smoking-cessation programs, ranging in costs from no fee to approximately $200.

Caylor-Nickel Medical Center in Bluffton offers the FreshStart program to the general public at no cost to the participant. The program, developed by the American Cancer Society, consists of four one-hour sessions. The hospital recently began offering on-site instruction for businesses at a nominal fee to cover instructor expenses.

St. Mary's Medical Center in Evansville offers a program called "Helping Smokers Quit," which, according to Cindy Williams, director of Health Matters, is based on the American Cancer Society's FreshStart program. The difference lies in the length of the class, which runs six sessions over a four-week period, rather than just the four sessions.

St. Mary's offers worksite programs, but a minimum of eight people is required at a cost of $60 per participant. Generally tailored to fit the company's needs, most sessions run from 45 minutes to an hour. When employees are sent to the hospital for instruction, only four participants are required and the price drops to $45 per participant. In addition to advice on smoking cessation, participants are given tips on exercise, nutrition, and medical aids such as the patch and gum.

The SMOKELESS program, developed by the American Institute for Prevention Medicine, has been offered by Community Hospitals Indianapolis for more than four years, both in the hospital and on-site. The average cost is $125 per person, with discounts offered for groups of 20 or more. The program also takes the holistic approach and emphasizes proper nutrition, stress management and exercise, as well as smoking cessation. From 45 to 65 percent of the program's graduates remain "comfortable, confident nonsmokers after one year," says Denise Gaskin, health promotion coordinator.

Community Hospitals is providing SMOKELESS classes at DowElanco in Indianapolis. DowElanco, along with other Dow organizations in Indianapolis, has a gate-to-gate no-smoking policy, with some areas designated tobacco free. The Dow parent company instituted the policy on July 1, 1990. "We occasionally get a few smokers who sneak off to the bathroom, but a majority of those involve contractors, not employees," says Paul Brownson, director of Occupational Health for Community. "Our predominantly white-collar work force tends to agree with the scientific evidence, so there hasn't been too much resistance." DowElanco's smoking population has been cut in half, with less than 15 percent of its employees still smoking.

Kosciusko Community Hospital of Warsaw offers Smoke Stoppers, a program developed by the National Center for Health Promotion of Ann Arbor, Mich. Boasting a 63 percent national success rate, the program costs $175 per person, with corporate discounts available. Three companies -- Norris Construction, Peters Engineering and BASF -- have provided Smoke Stoppers for employees.

Melinda Griffith, exercise specialist for Kosciusko, recommends that companies have their employees pay at least part of the program's cost.

"The employees that have to pay a little something are a lot of more serious," Griffith says. "They're not wasting their time, my time or the company's money. It's important. They need to have some ownership."

The anti-tobacco trend shows little signs of slowing down. Roger McClain says most workplaces will be tobacco-free by the end of the decade. "Our goal in the state of Indiana is to bring our smoking prevalence down to 17 percent by the year 2000, and part of the process is to make all the cues in society working toward nonsmoking as the norm."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Curtis Magazine Group, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Prata, Kathleen
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Words:2095
Previous Article:What's the difference?
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