Employers Ponder Tough Tactics To Halt Smoking

Victoria Colliver / San Francisco Chronicle | June 18, 2008

Howard Weyers tried the “carrot” approach by giving his employees incentives and encouragement to quit smoking. But when that didn’t work, he resorted to the stick. A big stick.

Weyers, owner of a health care benefits administrator in Lansing, Mich., gave his 200 employees an ultimatum in 2004: Quit smoking in 15 months or lose your job. He refused to hire smokers. Ultimately, he extended his smoking ban to employees’ spouses and monitored compliance through mandatory random blood testing.

Weyers’ method, while effective, wouldn’t fly in California because the state has laws that prohibit employers from making hiring or firing decisions based on employee participation in a legal activity. But participants in a smoking cessation forum hosted Monday by the Commonwealth Club of California found the idea nonetheless intriguing.

“We’re talking about ending an epidemic. This is a global pandemic,” said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, likening Weyers’ approach to controlling an outbreak of disease.

About 45 million Americans, 4 million of whom live in California, smoke cigarettes despite more than three decades of public efforts to encourage people to quit.

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