We all start the New Year with such good intentions, but, a few months down the line and the enthusiasm of the 31st December can be hard to maintain.

Some changes are too important to be left for another year and quitting smoking is one of them. Making real and lasting life changes is not just about deciding to quit in the early hours of the 1st  January. It’s about grit, determination and hard work, real change requires preparation and support.

Fortunately, we now know more than ever about addiction and how to help people who have decided to give up smoking. In 2017 success rates for people quitting smoking hit a record high. Nearly 20% of those who decided to quit at the end of 2016 were still managing to stick to it by the middle of the year. That is a whopping 4.3% increase on the past decade’s average.

While the decision to quit smoking is a deeply personal one, the success or failure of that decision can have serious implications for employers. Nationally, smoking costs business billions, around £2000 a year for a single business to cover cigarette breaks alone. Associated absenteeism and healthcare costs can take that figure up to around £4000.

What the law says

It is illegal to smoke in any enclosed workplace or in a company car that is used by more than one employee. Businesses can be fined up to £2,500 if they flaunt this law – smokers must go outside to smoke.

It is also legally acceptable for businesses to refuse to hire smokers, even if they agree not to smoke in the workplace. It is not viewed as discrimination and there are many examples of businesses, especially public-facing ones, such as hotels, who won’t accept employees arriving for work smelling of cigarette smoke.

Supporting your employees

Although businesses don’t have to employ smokers, it makes business sense to support employees who wish to give up smoking. The evidence shows that people who receive active support from those around them are far more likely to succeed in quitting than those who don’t.  When you consider that, on average, we spend at least half our waking day at work, businesses have a real opportunity to help employees with their efforts to stamp out the habit.

No more excuses

But, but but…. Excuses are the main reason that people don’t even start to quit. Understanding and educating around some of the most common ones is a good place to start.

  1. The damage is done – The moment you quit the body begins to undo that damage. The ability to smell and taste improve within days and breathing eases up too.  Quitters will see results fast.
  2. I’ll gain weight – This relates to the fact that smoking speeds up metabolism, so you burn more calories. When you quit, food will taste better, so there can be more temptation to overeat. However, preparation is key here, this is a perfect time to improve diet and increase exercise. After all, the distraction will help dull the cravings.  Encourage employees to get more active with initiatives like the lunchtime hour.
  3. I smoke to relax – Stress is one of the most common excuses given for not quitting smoking. Yet nicotine has no calming elements. In fact, it’s the addiction that causes the stress and anxiety. Quitting smoking will impact on mood, as it is a stressful process. An engaged and supportive workplace can minimise this.
  4. I’m too addicted – The physical addiction can sometimes feel insurmountable. Businesses can support employees by offering information and access to the many forms of medication and therapeutic aids available.

Active Workplace Support

With no more excuses blocking the way, there are lots of ways you can support employees to kick the habit.

  • Run an event – If you have a few employees who would like to kick the habit, (or are considering it) why not try running a stop smoking event? Don’t wait for January, instead consider taking advantage of the Stoptober campaign in October. This autumn campaign is based on the evidence that people who give up for 28 days are five times more likely to quit for good. The second Wednesday in March is also ‘Stop Smoking Day’ with national events to encourage quitting.
  • Team Challenge – The British Heart Foundation run a ‘We quit at work team challenge’ where employees are encouraged to offer support and encouragement to one another to quit smoking. You can download a challenge activity sheet and a ‘Quit Contract’ to help get people started.
  • Call in the experts – Sometimes professional support can make all the difference. Most local doctor’s surgeries will offer one-to-one appointments or group and drop-in services. There are also several private agencies and organisations that will come into the workplace.
  • Sign up – The NHS offer support and advice direct to an inbox. Employees can sign up and download useful information, apps and get support through texts, messenger or face to face.

Make it your policy

Never underestimate the power of workplace policy and culture to influence employees. Businesses can take a zero-tolerance approach to smoking and actively encourage quitting.

The decision to quit may be personal, but success is in everyone’s interest. The financial and practical costs to businesses from smoking can be devastating. By offering as much support as possible to those who have decided to quit, organisations will save money, and can literally, save lives.