The adult smoking rate in Indiana dropped to 21.2 percent last year, a major reduction from the 27 percent rate logged five years ago. Karla Sneegas, assistant commissioner of the State Health Department’s Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Commission, discussed the progress, as well as her agency’s efforts to help employers help their workers quit smoking.
IBJ: Rates of adults smoking has dropped considerably, especially the last two years. What has made the difference?
A: It’s the combination of everything that we’re doing. Over the last 10 years, the [state] cigarette tax has been increased twice, and the federal cigarette tax was raised in 2009. And we can see that consumption went down in the months following the increases. We’ve got about 34 percent of the [Indiana] population that is covered by some type of smoke-free air law that we consider effective—that covers all workplaces and restaurants and for some of them, even covers bars. People will often cite to us that a smoke-free policy at their workplace is one of the top four or five reasons they quit.
IBJ: In the past two years, you’ve built up a network of 400 employers that your agency is helping to run smoking cessation programs. But don’t most employers already offer a smoking cessation program to their workers?
A: There are still a lot of employers that aren’t offering a benefit. Even if they are offering certain benefits through their health plans, this [network] gives them the ability to tap in to certain resources and promotions. We’re doing the Quit Now Indiana contest. This is our fourth year for doing it. We give employers a promotional quit kit. It allows the employer to run their own in-house contest.
IBJ: What’s your pitch to get employers to focus on smoking cesstion?
A: One of the first things that we talk about with employers is how much a smoker costs. So that gets their attention. Every smoker that you have is roughly costing you $3,400 [extra] every year, compared to a non-smoker. If they’re hospitalized, they’re going to be in the hospital longer. If they’re out of work, they’re going to be out of work longer. If they need medicine, they’re going to be on more medication and for longer. That could be a tremendous amount of drain on your bottom line.