Tobacco use will cost UA employees $300

Story by Anna Ramia

TUSCALOOSA — Faculty and staff at The University of Alabama have two months to quit smoking or they will be charged $300 a year.

While some institutions offer financial incentives for their staff to quit smoking, the University has added a surcharge that will go into effect Jan. 1, 2014, affecting all faculty and staff who have used tobacco within 12 months of the initiation date.

The surcharge concerns all UA employees and their dependents who are covered under the UA medical plan. The employees will have to certify that they and their spouses have not used any form of tobacco within 12 months, or they will have to pay $25 per month ($300 a year).

If both the employee and their covered spouse use tobacco products, the premium will increase to $50. The money will be collected with their medical premiums to support the health plan, according to David Bertanzetti, human resources director of benefits.

Employees must certify that they and their spouses have not used any form of tobacco within 12 months, or they will have to pay $25 per month ($300 a year).

In order to not be affected by the surcharge, employees will have to record their tobacco usage status by Jan. 1, 2013. If nothing is documented, UA will assume that the employee uses tobacco. However, news of the surcharge has not yet made it to the general faculty and staff population.

“I think this is highly frustrating because it’s the first time I’ve heard of this,” said Chaz Womelsdorf, a communication studies instructor and assistant director of forensics. “Better communication is needed.”

UA faculty and staff will self-report, using the honor system, when recording tobacco usage.

“Employees will indicate if they have used tobacco in the previous 12 months via an automated system,” Bertanzetti said. “This system has not been developed yet.”

Those wishing to quit tobacco will receive help, if desired. According to Kay Whites, coordinator of the Office of Health Promotion and Wellness, UA intends to offer several tobacco cessation programs to assist individuals who wish to become tobacco free.

According to Whites, The Office of Health Promotion and Wellness will be referring individuals to the Quit Line if they would prefer to quit in that way. The office’s programs are free and open to any UA faculty, staff or their spouses. Programs are planned for November, January, March, April and July.

Rebecca Kelly, director of health promotion and wellness, is confident that faculty and staff will take the surcharge as an opportunity, not a punishment.

“The Office of Health Promotion has received a limited number of calls in response to the tobacco surcharge,” Kelly said. “Individuals are using this message as a ‘call to action’ in which they are converting their thoughts of quitting tobacco to get enrolled in a tobacco cessation program.  We have found that employees are ready to quit and happy to have the resources available to them.”

“I realize [smoking] is a health risk I am taking,” Womelsdorf said. “We can’t be drains on the health care system, so I understand. I think it is a good incentive—it makes sense.”

Kelly is cognizant that quitting tobacco usage is not an easy task.

“Breaking a bad habit — especially an addictive one — is difficult,” Kelly said. “Overcoming nicotine addiction requires education, motivation, commitment and support.”

The University of Alabama offers a range of extended services through the Office of Health Promotion and Wellness’s Tobacco Free program as well as other university-sponsored programs. The Tobacco Free program is designed to help tobacco users quit and remain tobacco-free. The program offers tangible resources that are designed to fit individual preferences and can ideally be tailored to achieve positive results. This program includes a one-time compensation of up to $150 for nicotine replacement therapy (nicotine patches, gum and prescription medications).

For more information on the tobacco surcharge and how to quit, visit http://hr.ua.edu/benefits/tobaccoUseSurcharge.html or contact the HR Service Center at (205) 348-7732, with any questions or concerns.