Cost of Smoking Goes Up for Retail Workers

Discussion
Dec 02, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson


The high cost of smoking cigarettes is about to go even higher as employers such as Meijer begin adding an extra charge to healthcare premiums for those who choose to keep rather than kick the habit.


Beginning next year, Meijer will begin taking an additional $25 a month from the paychecks of employees who smoke. Smokers who participate in a company-sponsored program to quit will not be charged.


“Smoking is a health hazard, and this is one way to encourage a healthy lifestyle,” Judith Clark, spokesperson for Meijer told The Detroit News. “We look at it as an incentive.”


Meijer is using the honor system to determine employees who smoke.


“The company’s not going to be a watchdog,” said Ms. Clark.


While many agree that it makes sense for employers to charge smokers more for healthcare premiums, it raises the question of how far companies can go in monitoring the personal habits of its workers.


Byron Grays, a flight attendant with Northwest (the airline also adds a surcharge for employees who smoke), said, “I have a big problem with that. We’re being treated differently from other employees. If you apply the same logic to smokers, where does it stop? Why can’t I request that those employees pay more that are obese or heavy drinkers?” 


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22 Comments on "Cost of Smoking Goes Up for Retail Workers"


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Randy Novak
Guest
Randy Novak
15 years 3 months ago

Kudos to Meijer. Those of us who make the choices that result in better health are tired of subsidizing the healthcare costs of people who choose to live an unhealthy lifestyle, whether it be smoking or obesity. This is not discrimination. It is a reality of the lifestyle choices people make on a daily basis. Companies should be able to charge people more if their lifestyle choices increase health care costs.

Sally St.John
Guest
Sally St.John
15 years 3 months ago

Obese people, alcohol users, prescription drug abusers, hypochondriacs BEWARE!!! You are next.

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

Echoing some of the comments, it’s discrimination when smoking is singled out. Obesity is tied to diabetes – why not weight penalties over the NIH guidelines (be generous – go out a standard deviation). Of course, I’m biased – I’m a smoker and a diabetic (although right on the NIH guideline for weight – it’s genetic).

Dawn Cripe
Guest
Dawn Cripe
15 years 3 months ago

Wow! What a slippery slope we could go down…certain races are more prone to certain diseases; women generally live longer than men; alcohol and drug abusers and domestic violence victims may all visit the ER more often…not to even mention people with mental health issues… but I won’t go down that slope…

Employees are not guests; they are people providing services and contributing to the economic success of an employer (ideally), so while employers can dictate the actions of employees in the workplace, within reason and within the scope of the law, legal activities in private, whether poor health choices or not, should be off limits. In regards to paid health benefits, companies need to seriously rethink their approach to contributing, which may adversely affect us in the end. More discussion is needed on this topic.

michael janket
Guest
michael janket
15 years 3 months ago
I am a 62-year old, non-smoking, physically fit man who resents intrusions into my life. These include second hand smoke emanating from people who think this is free and legal expression. I also hate, perhaps more than anything, government intrusions into my life. I’ve challenged those rascals many times in my life. When I became a health professional, I remember saying nearly 30 years ago that “big brother” would someday be doing things like imposing various penalty fees for behavior contrary to good health maintenance. It appears those days are here. We all complain about these high, high costs for buying health services but since they’ve become a benefit in many jobs, the cost factors are forgotten in large measure. If somebody else pays for the health insurance, hey, we have no financial reason to “worry” about rising costs for insurance. However, co-pay insurances will soon be more and more expensive and we either get smart and take better care of ourselves or we will justifiably be seeing higher co-pays. We can’t have it both… Read more »
Dale Collie
Guest
Dale Collie
15 years 3 months ago
Why would you even consider punitive action toward smokers? Just reward non-smokers by reducing their insurance expenses $25 a month. Same goes for drinkers, obese folks, etc. We’re pretty much used to being charged varying rates for auto insurance. Why can’t we do the same for health care? Health care already has some of this in place … more expense for older workers, large families, etc. For individuals, insurance companies reject insurance for thousands of people with “pre existing” conditions …. think about how this applies to smokers. If you think $25 a month is punishment, how about if we just reject insurance for smokers? There are good points to both sides of the argument. Companies ought to be able to protect their bottom line, and we employees ought to get in step if we want to work for those particular companies. If we don’t like the way they provide insurance, we can exercise our freedom and get a job somewhere else. And companies shouldn’t dictate what we can do on our own time; instead,… Read more »
Dustin Stinett
Guest
Dustin Stinett
15 years 3 months ago
“Those of us who make the choices that result in better health are tired of subsidizing the healthcare costs of people who choose to live an unhealthy lifestyle, whether it be smoking or obesity. This is not discrimination. It is a reality of the lifestyle choices people make on a daily basis.” – rjnovak “dis•crim•i•nate: To make distinctions on the basis of class or category without regard to individual merit; show preference or prejudice.” – The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. “This is the essence of discrimination: formulating opinions about others not based on their individual merits, but rather on their membership in a group with assumed characteristics.” – School Board of Nassau County v. Arline, 480 U.S. 273 (1987). I’ll let “rjnovak” ferret out his/her own oxymoron. While statistics bear out the health issues related to smoking and obesity, the real question, as asked by “Henry_8tth” is, “Where does it stop?” There is a high incidence of genetically linked high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Many forms of cancer can… Read more »
James McDowell
Guest
James McDowell
15 years 3 months ago

I think it is a terrific idea, except I would make it punitive enough to make employees choose between having health care and smoking. People who don’t smoke, control their weight, don’t drink alcohol to excess, etc. should not have to subsidize the bad behavior of others. B.F. Skinner said: “Behavior that is rewarded tends to increase and behavior that is punished tends to decrease.” If private industry took the lead, then maybe our government would stop delivering “carte blanc” healthcare to people who don’t try to take care of themselves…at the taxpayers expense!!!

Mark Burr
Guest
15 years 3 months ago
Hard stand to take when they may be one of the largest purveyors of tobacco in their market area. Will they stop selling it? Will they charge extra for anyone overweight, by their terms? How about not selling food items that have any slight risk that they could contribute to obesity? Where do you draw the line and say that other health risks are equally deserving of an extra charge? They can do as they wish. They are a privately held company so they can likely do many things that others cannot. This step begins a slide down a slope that even the greatest skiers in Michigan may not be able navigate. The most troubling factor about health care costs and cost of insurance is how little companies of this size and those dramatically larger are doing to drive down the cost by controlling unrealistic expenses. Do you suppose that if every major employer of this size became self-insured and challenged every single expense that they’d have more power in controlling costs? When it comes… Read more »
Janet Lazaris
Guest
Janet Lazaris
15 years 3 months ago

This change is taking one means of assessing individual/private insurance premiums (i.e., risk factor) to the assessment of group insurance premiums. It may be OK with many when the focus is smoking, but what do we say when group insurance premiums start to be assessed – like private insurance – by usage…the more claims you make, the higher the cost. Slippery slope indeed.

Todd Humphrey
Guest
Todd Humphrey
15 years 3 months ago

OK, smokers are taking the hit. What about workers who are extremely overweight? They have more health issues/complications than any other group.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

There’s no doubt that the slope is very slippery. And smokers, including healthy ones, already pay a huge financial cost for their habit, since tobacco costs money. Employers have a better image when they offer carrots (smoking clinics, on-site Weight Watchers) not sticks (financial penalties). Isn’t a positive image a valuable asset? I tell the smokers I love, “Don’t you know that smoking stunts your growth? Don’t you want to grow tall like me?” They always laugh. It seems to work better than delivering a heavy guilt trip. I’m 6’3″ and my friends know I don’t smoke.

Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
15 years 3 months ago

I’m as anti-smoking as they come, but I have to admit this is wrong. I’m fine with insurance companies charging smokers more, but group health insurance spreads a multitude of risks across an entire organization. Smokers may contribute to an organization’s risk profile, but so do a lot of things, from orthopedic surgeries to age. Charging smokers higher contributions is punitive. Subsidizing gym memberships and reducing the company’s overall obesity would be a more positive and probably equally money-saving step.

Plus, I agree with Henry–stop selling cigarettes before you make your own employees who smoke pay more.

Michele McCawley
Guest
Michele McCawley
15 years 3 months ago

Are employers going to start analyzing other aspects of employees’ personal lives, such as eating habits, exercise, sexual behavior, driving styles and hobbies? What about employees who don’t smoke but are exposed to second hand smoke via a spouse? Should they be penalized? I think this policy is intrusive and unfair, and will probably lower morale right in the middle of the busiest part of the retail season.

George Tabbert
Guest
George Tabbert
15 years 3 months ago

Kudos??? If you want to give kudos to Mejier… wait until they take a real stand against smoking. Let them lose millions upon millions of dollars by NOT SELLING tobacco products. They want to take a moral stand for their employees… well then keep it equal.

Charge all the fat people for eating too many Candy bars…

Charge all the people who frequent their local pubs a “drunk fee.”

Charge all the people who don’t brush their teeth twice a day a higher dental insurance fee. Where does it stop?

We, as retailers, have no right to dictate the lifestyle that people lead outside of work.

Rick Moss
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

Many people smoke for decades with very little ill effects, although most are not so fortunate. It’s likely there’s a genetic predisposition to smoking-related diseases. As DNA testing becomes more affordable, will employers want to pre-qualify job applicants based on their genetic risk of disease? Slippery slope.

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

Not only do I think employers should be able to dictate health habits to employees, but I also believe that employers should be able to hire and fire employees for any reason unless they have a contract. Being an employee is like being a guest in someone’s home. When you are in their house, you either play by their rules or leave.

Warren Thayer
Guest
15 years 3 months ago
My first instinct was outrage, but then I thought about it. My car insurance rates went off the charts when my kids began to drive, because statistically they’re more likely to have accidents. If I buy a house next to a river that floods, I pay more for house insurance. If I’m a skydiver, my life insurance premiums go up. It’s a fact that smokers have higher rates of disease and death, so what’s the difference? I was hard-pressed to find one (this from an ex-smoker who’s lost close friends to lung cancer.) I can’t argue for banning tobacco, any more than I can argue for banning Twinkies. Part of me thinks that if people have to pay an additional amount for insurance for hazardous behavior that is within their control, they might choose to rein in the hazardous behavior, and that would be good for all. I’m very much in favor of the company-sponsored stop-smoking effort. If this were to extend to obesity, I guess I could live with that, too. I had a… Read more »
Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
15 years 3 months ago

Insurance companies have long had different rates for smokers and non-smokers, so the only thing really new here is the employer passing some of the cost on to smoking employees, which seems fair. But, Pandora’s box is open, as mentioned in the article, and additional charges for those with other unhealthy habits could be in our long-term future.

My preference would be to provide a not so gentle nudge for smokers to attend clinics on quitting, as Meijer is doing. And, what about not paying smokers for their smoke breaks? It’s the only habit I can think of that’s allowed at work, but you actually have to stop work to do it.

T. Pat McLaughlin
Guest
T. Pat McLaughlin
15 years 3 months ago

The last time I looked, cigarettes were still legal. Until they are banded, companies should refrain from trying to be a ‘big brother.’

Tom McGoldrick
Guest
Tom McGoldrick
15 years 3 months ago

I think the program makes sense, especially if Meijer can use it to negotiate lower premiums. Where to draw the line is more difficult. Morbid obesity is arguably more expensive than smoking, however, chronic stress is also very unhealthy and often a result of a person’s job.

Personally, I’d like to see a payroll deduction for all those people who constantly lobby to have the heat turned up. It costs the company money and creates an uncomfortable work environment for many others. 🙂

Erik Clark
Guest
Erik Clark
15 years 2 months ago

As an employee for Meijer, I understand why they chose to raise rates for smoking but I don’t know if you all know that it goes against the spouse on my insurance also. I don’t smoke, but my wife does so, therefore, I have to pay an extra $25 a month for my wife smoking….I don’t agree with it.

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