Stoptober, the Government’s 28-day national stop smoking challenge, officially kicks off on 1 October 2018, with participants encouraged to sign up even sooner. Vicky Powell looks at all the good reasons why employers should help workers kick the smoking habit and the best strategies to achieve this.

Stop smoking

Research has shown that smokers are 34% more likely to quit when someone they work with stops smoking too, making the workplace an ideal place to promote initiatives like Stoptober and other similar programmes.

Statistics also indicate that giving up smoking for 28 days means people are five times more likely to stay smoke-free for good.

Business benefits

Stoptober is currently active from September 2018 and, besides the obvious benefit of improving workers’ health, there are all sorts of financial reasons for employers to support employees who want to give up their smoking habit for good.

  • There are proven links between smoking and absenteeism in working adults. Current smokers have a 33% increase in the risk of absenteeism compared to non-smokers.

  • Cigarette breaks at work are said to cost British businesses as much £8.4 billion a year in lost productivity of smokers.

  • Overall, the economic costs of tobacco use in the UK are estimated at over £13 billion per year, which includes workplace absenteeism and loss of productivity and output due to illness and smoking breaks.

Health benefits

For workers, quitting can improve health right away, boosting immunity, circulation and energy levels very quickly. For example, just one year after quitting, ex-smokers could find their risk of a heart attack is as low as half of that of someone who smokes.

Quitting can also help workers protect the health of their families from harmful second-hand smoke, reducing their risk of developing asthma, meningitis and some cancers.

Financial benefits

Then there’s the prospect of saving money — workers who get through a packet of cigarettes a day can save about £250 each month.

Top strategies for employers

As many as two-thirds of smokers say they want to stop smoking. Employers can start by creating a workplace environment in which employees feel supported to make healthier choices overall, including stopping smoking. Organisations can tailor their interventions to help employees quit smoking as part of the wider workplace wellbeing policy.

Publicising Stoptober is, of course, one good strategy. Participants who sign up to Stoptober can choose from a range of free support tools including daily emails and text messages throughout the 28 days as well as a mobile phone app that includes various tips and advice — all of which have been shown to increase the chances of staying smoke-free.

Organisations can also encourage smokers by offering information on the benefits of stopping smoking and the range of support available, eg through the NHS’s Local Stop Smoking Services, which offer free intensive one-to-one support along with stop smoking medicines, available for the cost of a prescription.

Private healthcare companies may also be suitable for sources of corporate support.

Other useful corporate strategies can include offering encouragement, challenges and guidance through company noticeboards, staff newsletters and intranets. (NHS Smokefree and NHS Choices offer excellent sources of information about the harm associated with tobacco as well as dependency and addiction support services.)

Your Smoking at Work topic is packed full of useful Factsheets and How to... guides to help you action your strategy.

Quitting interventions — what really works?

According to the NHS, interventions that can work include:

  • simple, opportunistic advice

  • an assessment of the individual worker’s commitment to quit

  • pharmacotherapy, such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) in the form of patches or gum or bupropion, which is used both as used as an antidepressant and smoking cessation aid

  • self-help materials

  • behavioural support in the form of:

    • individual behavioural counselling by means of face-to-face sessions between the smoker and a counsellor trained in assisting smoking cessation

    • group behaviour therapy sessions involving scheduled meetings where people who smoke receive information, advice and encouragement and some form of behavioural intervention (eg cognitive behavioural therapy)

    • telephone counselling and quitlines.

A word about vaping

In July 2016, Public Health England published advice for employers on vaping entitled Use of E-cigarettes in Public Places and Workplaces. Advice to Inform Evidence-based Policy Making. The advice said that e-cigarettes were understood to be much better for smokers than cigarettes and, in contrast to the known harm from exposure to second-hand smoke, there was at that time no evidence of harm from second-hand e-cigarette vapour and the risks were likely to be extremely low.

However, recent research, published in the journal Thorax, has concluded that vaping disables key immune cells in the lungs that keep the air spaces clear of potentially harmful particles, and as a result can boost inflammation in the body.

Health experts have suggested that further research is needed to better understand the long-term health impact of vaping on people and that e-cigarettes may be more harmful than first thought, with some effects similar to those seen in regular smokers and people with chronic lung disease.

Recent calls for caution on what has been described as “the rush to embrace vaping” have been made by in a statement from the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) and the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee in another report on vaping.

Success stories

Stop smoking programmes can be life changing for successful employees. Catherine McCabe, 49, a receptionist at Lambeth Town Hall in Brixton, managed to quit a 36-year smoking habit with the support of the stop smoking team at Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.

She said, “Occasionally I still have cravings but with the help of nicotine patches that soon passes. I’d never done exercise before but now I do Zumba classes with my sister twice a week and I’m starting to feel fitter.”

Smoking is the nation’s biggest killer. Every year around 79,000 people in England die from smoking-related disease.

And it’s not only about physical health. There is also a strong link between smoking and poor mental health. A common misconception among smokers is that smoking relieves stress and anxiety but research evidence shows that stopping smoking improves mental health, with a similar effect size to antidepressants.

For all of these reasons, Stoptober — or, indeed, any other month of the year — is the perfect time for employers to support workers who want to quit smoking.

Case study: Quitting in action

Julie Harrington, Smoking Cessation Lead at Bath and North East Somerset Community Health and Care Services recently told the charity Business in the Community about her rewarding experience of helping several employees to stop smoking at Integrity Print, a small packaging and printing company near Bath.

Integrity Print wanted to support its employees to reduce or completely stop smoking. Julie’s involvement with the organisation was first triggered by the smoke-free legislation coming into force, and the need for the workplace to adapt. She then returned to the company to provide further support when a new requirement for employees to wear protective clothing began causing disruption, as it was unfeasible for employees to repeatedly get out of their protective clothing and take a cigarette break away from their work space.

The organisation invited her to run drop-in programmes for staff to help them stop smoking, which were held once a week during lunchtimes.

Integrity Print helped promote these sessions through posters around the workplace, and through their internal company newsletter.

The Stop Smoking scheme — which ran for around eight weeks — was very successful, with most people who participated quitting completely and one significantly cutting down.

Last reviewed 25 September 2018