The Cost of Smoking in Georgia

September 6, 2013

Tammy Miller, an office manager at the Candler County Health Department, smoked her first cigarette as a teenager while working on a tobacco farm. She knows the nicotine urge that smokers feel throughout the workday.

Miller smoked for at least 20 of the 23 years of her career as a county public health worker, taking at least two 10-minute breaks each day to puff on cigarettes. She does not know how much money she has spent on cigarettes, but she does know she paid the tobacco surcharge for the State Health Benefit Plan (SHBP) when it was just $40 in 2009 and $60 in 2010.

The tobacco surcharge has now jumped to $80. But Miller is an ex-smoker, so she no longer worries about paying it, or about taking cigarette breaks throughout the day.

“I was a fast smoker, hardly ever taking 15 minutes,” Miller said. “When it was time for a cigarette, I really could not focus on my work until I went to smoke. Now that's not an issue, I just keep working most of the day.”

Thousands of workers in Georgia are still smoking, and the state feels the impact of the tobacco use. According to Georgia Vital Statistics, smoking resulted in $3.2 billion in lost productivity costs among Georgia adults age 35 years and older from 2004-2008. Smoking also cost the state $1.8 billion in health care costs every year from 2003-2007.

According to one recent study, U.S. workers who haven’t quit smoking are costing employers extra money. The report, published in the journal Tobacco Control, found that each employee who smokes costs their workplace about $5,800 each year. The costs came from increased health care costs and absenteeism but also from productivity lost when employees take cigarette breaks.

According to the Georgia Department of Community Health, which operates the SHBP, about 28,000 households in the state pay the $80 tobacco surcharge, indicating that there are at least that many state employees who use tobacco.

"There may be multiple members in a household who use tobacco, but only one surcharge applies," said Cheryl Williams, deputy chief of the SHBP.

To ease the burden of tobacco use in Georgia and encourage more smokers to quit, SHBP began covering over-the-counter and prescription tobacco cessation products with a physician's prescription in January 2012. Members can use either product; however, to be eligible for coverage of these medications they must actively engage in the tobacco cessation telephonic coaching program.

When clients call the tobacco cessation line, coaches track the frequency and quantity of cigarette use and monitor secondary outcomes such as stress level, blood pressure, exercise and weight. SHBP members participating in the program can call any time, and they are also eligible for coverage of over-the-counter and prescription tobacco cessation medications for one cycle per year.

If SHBP members successfully complete the tobacco cessation program and stop using tobacco, they no longer have to pay the tobacco surcharge.

“The primary goal of the telephonic tobacco cessation program is for SHBP members to quit using tobacco products and to remain ‘tobacco-free,’ thereby preventing the health complications associated with tobacco use and helping SHBP consumers live healthier lives,” Williams said.

Miller quit tobacco use with assistance from her health provider. Like most ex-smokers, she had to fight old habits in order to beat the addiction.

“The worst thing for a while was figuring out what to do with my hands,” said Miller.
“They were so used to holding a cigarette in them. I am certainly able to breathe better, and I no longer have that little hacky cough. I know my health will benefit even more as I stay a smoke-free woman.”

The Georgia Department of Public Health’s Tobacco Use Prevention Program encourages smokers in Georgia as young as 13 years old to call the Georgia Tobacco Quit Line at 1-877-270-STOP (7867) for free cessation counseling.

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