How to support your staff to quit smoking during Stoptober

What is Stoptober? 

Are you wondering how to support your employees in their efforts to stop smoking? The Stoptober initiative was put in place in 2012 to significantly reduce the percentage of those participating in smoking cigarettes in the UK. Recently the Stoptober movement has become part of the NHS’ Better Health Initiative which sees it join other major health concerns such as weight gain, alcohol consumption and exercise levels.

We’re familiar with the adage “quitting is for losers”, but in the case of smoking, this could not be further from the truth. After ten years, Stoptober has proven long-term results in improving smokers’ chances of permanently quitting tobacco.

The initiative primarily bases itself on the findings that smokers are five times more likely to give up smoking for good if they abstain for 28 days or more. In 2012 over 19% of the UK population were smokers, and in 2021 there has been a reduction to 12.1%, with 2.3 million people making quit attempts in the last ten years!

Stop smoking

Smoking is bad for business

These significant improvements are great news for the health and well-being of our population, but how can promoting Stoptober help support your business? Firstly, encouraging your employees to improve their health and quit smoking will improve productivity and decrease absenteeism.

Studies have shown that, on average, employees who smoke take 2.7 extra sick days each year compared to their non-smoking counterparts and over £3.6 billion is wasted in cigarette breaks a year. Follow this link for a full breakdown of the cost of smoking on the economy.

Some notable facts highlight how smoking can affect your employee’s productivity and increase their chances of being absent from work.

  • Smokers are five times more likely to catch the flu and twice as likely to contract pneumonia
  • Smokers have a much higher risk of respiratory illness and suffer more severe, prolonged symptoms with asthma or a common cold
  • Smoking is the most significant preventable cause of illness and premature death
  • In the UK alone, over 78000 people die each year from smoking-related illnesses

Supporting smoking cessation can also help to tackle issues surrounding mental health. Although many smokers purport that smoking helps ease stress and anxieties, The NHS information states that this is a short-term effect of nicotine, which gives the illusion of reducing stress and that it is highly likely that anxiety’s origins are from smoking.

The NHS reports that smokers have higher levels of depression and that abstaining from smoking can be just as effective as antidepressant medications. Employees suffering from poor mental health cannot work to their true potential, leading to a loss of productivity. Studies have shown that when individuals give up smoking –

  • Anxiety, depression, and stress level are lower
  • Quality of life and positive mood improves
  • Dosage of antidepressants can be reduced

For more information on smoking and mental health, please visit the NHS website here.

How can you support a stop-smoking plan in the workplace?

To make a robust plan, you need to address the areas below –

  • Goals and objectives – what you want to achieve and why
  • An inventory of available resources – what is available in the workplace and the community
  • A needs assessment – ask employees what they want
  • Who will be involved – identify the organisers and the target audience you want to reach
  • Activities – what you are going to do and when
  • Communication – including who, how often, and how
  • Evaluation – looking at whether you have met your goals and objectives

Changing company culture surrounding smoking

Providing educational leaflets and training for all your staff is a brilliant first step in changing the company culture surrounding smoking. It is just as crucial for non-smoking employees to be aware of the signs of withdrawal symptoms and how they can support their colleagues in the challenging weeks that follow tobacco cessation.

Encourage empathy and celebrate the successes of those taking part in Stoptober by incorporating the initiative into your company’s daily routines. Other initiatives include setting up weekly support groups for smokers to discuss their struggles and achievements or even buddying up employees so they have someone to turn to for support when necessary.

Support for smokers to stop smoking

Understand and remove as many barriers as possible for those attempting to quit; employees will have their own perceived barriers to kicking the habit, but here are a few core barriers to be aware of:

Stress and anxiety

Giving up smoking will heighten stress levels in the short term whilst the individual is dealing with withdrawal symptoms when they stop smoking. Promoting the general mental health of your workforce can help with this; providing dedicated time to focus on stress-busting activities such as yoga, meditation or exercise classes during work time will provide stress relief and not single out employees who smoke. Providing healthy snack options at break times can also be a great way of distracting employees from their usual habits.

Addiction to nicotine

Nicotine withdrawal has many side effects making it the most significant physical reason it is so difficult to stop smoking. Symptoms include anger, frustration, irritability, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, restlessness, anxiety, depression, hunger, or increased appetite.

These things can be challenging to deal with in a work environment and may require understanding from their line managers and co-workers. Some workplaces choose to buddy up employees undertaking smoking cessation with a non-smoking partner who can assist with some of the high-pressure tasks; this is also a great way of identifying staff members capable of upskilling within your company.

Kicking the habit to stop smoking

Smoking at work invariably becomes a habit; when trying to stop smoking, making it through their next break can seem like another looming goal to achieve. In this instance, it can be helpful to switch up your employees’ work routines to help them break the habit they previously set.

You could consider setting incentives for them to participate during their breaks to distract them from the thought of smoking. Arranging fun and friendly competitive games and quizzes can be a great way to achieve this; offering small prizes such as leaving work an hour early or arriving an hour late motivates staff to participate and won’t have a large financial footprint.

Lack of support and access to resources 

This is one of the most significant barriers you can influence as an employer to help your staff to stop smoking; signposting local smoking cessation services and making an inventory of available resources online and how to easily access them can help your employee achieve successful smoking cessation.

Ensure you provide time for employees to attend these services during work hours, whether group therapy in the community or 1:1 smoking cessation counselling via phone or video call. It may be in the budget to arrange a professional to come in and hold workshops with those aiming to give up for good; depending on your local services the Public Health England may offer for one of their specialists to visit your offices on a government-funded basis.

These suggestions will help to bolster those employees who are quitting this Stoptober and give you the confidence that you can provide the support they require. Further resources on Stoptober are now available here.