Latest Research Offers Smokers New Ways to Quit

By Laurel Sindewald

Employers and employees may perceive smoking as a personal action that doesn’t affect the ability of employees to contribute their best work to their employers’ profitability, but, as a group, smokers inadvertently cost U.S. employers an extra $5,816 per year due to more smoke breaks, health care costs, absenteeism, and lost productivity at work.

Specifically, that’s:

  • An extra $3,077 annually for smoke breaks. Smokers take five breaks on average as compared to the typical three.
  • $2,056 in extra health care expenses. Smokers typically have more health problems such as heart or lung disease, and cancers.
  • $683 due to increased absenteeism and reduced productivity, likely due to withdrawal symptoms. Smokers miss an average of two and a half extra work days per year.


The nicotine in tobacco products is a powerfully addictive drug, as addictive as heroin, cocaine, or alcohol. Sources cite it as one of the hardest addictions to treat. AlterNet lists it as #3 in its top ten list of worst addictions. The research for this ranking system was conducted in London, 2007 by David Nutt et al. and published in this paper.  The ranking system was then developed by a Dutch team, as seen in this paper by van Amsterdam J. et al.

In fact, cigarettes are becoming even more addictive according to a 2014 study. Tobacco companies have changed the design of their cigarettes to make them more efficient at delivering nicotine to the brain. Fewer cigarettes will give people the same amount of nicotine, so someone intending to cut down on cigarettes may not actually be cutting down on nicotine. Specifically, the amount of nicotine a person gets from a cigarette increased by 15 percent.

The latest research on smoking offers a breath of fresh hope for employers and employees.

How to Quit

Scientists continue to search for ever more improved ways to help people quit tobacco. Sources agree these are the most effective ways to quit smoking (a combination of several of these is even better):

  1. Behavioral counseling. Counseling helps smokers develop a game plan for their quit attempt, and encourages them if they relapse. Smoking is seen and treated as a chronic disease, so it is important to recognize that a failed attempt at quitting does not mean quitting is impossible. Counseling also helps people to pinpoint situations that make it harder for them to resist smoking so that these situations can be avoided while quitting. Counseling is often coupled with one of several medications.
  2. Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT). Cigarettes contain about 4,000 chemicals, 40 of which are known carcinogens. Nicotine medications such as patches, lozenges, and gums don’t relieve a smoker of her addiction, but they do give smokers an alternative to those thousands of chemicals. Smokers can also know the exact dose of nicotine they are receiving, which can help if they plan to gradually cut down their daily dose.
  3. Varenicline. Varenicline interferes with the nicotine receptors in the brain, lessening the effects of nicotine on the smoker. It also reduces the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. It is recommended that the smoker begin taking the medication a week before the quit day. Varenicline more than doubles the chances of quitting as compared to no medication at all. The safety of combining Varenicline and NRT has not been well-researched, but according to the American Cancer Society such a combination isn’t needed.

    “A 2013 study that compared varenicline plus a nicotine patch with varenicline plus a placebo patch showed no difference in quit rates, cravings, symptoms, or side effects.” – American Cancer Society

  4. Bupropion. This medication is a prescription, extended-release anti-depressant that helps relieve nicotine withdrawal symptoms. It works best if started 1-2 weeks before quitting. Some doctors recommend using this along with NRT.
  5. Quit drinking (at least temporarily). 50% of smokers who relapse do so while they have alcohol in their bloodstream. Smoking and drinking are frequently closely linked, so it is recommended that a smoker abstain from both while trying to quit smoking.

As scientists continue to develop new treatments for this widespread addiction, smokers may find that quitting is more and more possible. Employer-employee partnerships to help smokers use the latest research to quit tobacco use may find such a venture personally, socially and financially profitable.

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