Plan sponsors need to determine the level of paternalistic concern they will maintain for the people in their employ. We often refer to this as the social contract that exists between the two parties and much has been written about the need to keep the social contract in balance. The balance between providing care and maintaining fiscal responsibility is a key component of the business owner’s basic business survival instinct.

But what happens when the balance appears strained in the face of a seemingly paradoxical set of data: namely, addiction?

The Conference Board of Canada in October 2013 published a report quantifying the loss in productivity and absenteeism of smokers at $4,256 per employee. A 2012 study, Tobacco Use in Canada: Patterns and Trends, stated that tobacco-related illnesses costs $4.4 billion Canadians in direct healthcare costs. Even though smoking rates have declined, smoking is still a leading cause of death in our country today.

Read: Smoking rate falls to new low

In the face of all these alarming statistics and more, is the prescient question: why are so many benefits plans limiting or even refusing to include a more considered amount of funds to pay for smoking cessation drugs and treatments?

Dealing with addiction is an ongoing battle and frustrating for everyone involved. The battle is not easily won and may take several attempts. These are often the reasons why plan sponsors give up in exasperation, set lower limits to cover smoking cessation products and question why they should be the ones to bankroll their employees’ serial attempts that never amount to much. It’s part of the social contract.

Habitual smokers will continue to struggle with their addiction until they recognize the greater reasons why they should quit; a reason that gives them a greater payoff than the one associated with their reliance on the drug that controls them. The urgent pleas of a child who wants their parent to be there and healthy enough to walk them down the aisle or hold their first grandchild often provide the right catalyst. Each individual will need to find that tipping point and hope they can find the support—both materially and morally to help support them through the battle.

Read: Banning smoking could help employees butt out

Treatments include prescription drugs; nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) such as patches, inhalers and chewing gum; hypnosis; and going cold turkey. The right treatment or combination of treatments will vary in every case and is beyond the scope of this article.

The cost of a 12-week treatment regimen with Zyban and Champix are $165 and $285, respectively. Often prescription therapies are enhanced with the addition of an ample supply of NRT products. The combined costs could approach $450 to $500 for the same treatment period.

The economic consideration is no more complicated (social contract aside) than balancing the loss of productivity cost identified above vs. the cost of one, two or even three treatment periods annually. Furthermore – increased health costs associated with smokers for the treatment of related cardiovascular disease provide additional motivation to help employees end their addiction.

Community health outreach programs (the Canadian Lung Association, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, municipal and regional departments of health etc.) are available—often at no cost. Some of these programs will provide in-office consulting sessions and possibly even provide generous supplies of NRT products in return for completing surveys or reports detailing the individual battles with addiction.

Fortunately the incidence of smoking is on the decline. Perhaps this can be attributed to rising costs, increased taxation and the subliminal messages that adorn cigarette and tobacco packaging. There may also be a stigma for some because of the way tobacco products are sold and hidden at retail counters as if they are somehow dirty. The fact of the matter remains that the costs to society and our loved ones is still too high.

Many smokers want to quit. Plan sponsors need only do the math to determine just how broad is their need to balance their social contract with the needs to remain financially viable. That balance point might be further out then they think.

Read: Smokers need not apply

Personal note: I have never been a smoker nor do I have an addictive personality, which is truly a blessing. Several immediate and extended family members have faced, won and continue the battle to this day. I am very proud of my brother, who is now eight months smoke-free and of both my parents who battled and beat their smoking habits decades ago. I pray the rest and any of you who are reading this column find your catalyst, tipping point and the support you need to win the battle—soon.

Bob Carter is regional vice-president, sales — specialty programs at Empire Life. These are the views of the author and not necessarily those of Benefits Canada or Empire Life.
Copyright © 2021 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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