Blue Cross Going Tobacco-Free This Summer

TOPEKA, Kan. - The state's largest health insurer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas, is stepping up its commitment to promote healthier lifestyle choices to Kansans by beginning at home.

On July 1, 2008, the company, which employs 1,450 people in Topeka and its 10 field offices throughout the state, will implement a new tobacco-free workplace policy.

Use of tobacco products will no longer be allowed on any owned or leased company propery, in company cars or on company-paid break times.

Previously, employees and visitors had access to outdoor designated smoking areas at each Blue Cross location, but those areas will no longer be available July 1.

Employees who choose to smoke or use other tobacco products on their lunch break will be required to leave company property.

"As the leading health insurance provider in Kansas, we have an obligation to promote a healthier work place," says Graham Bailey, vice president of corporate communications and public relations. "Implementing a tobacco-free policy sends a strong message that we care about the health and safety of our employees. We cannot be credible in promoting the importance of health and wellness to our employer groups and members if we are not first willing to tackle the big issues ourselves."

The company first told its employees of the new policy last December, allowing them more than six months to prepare for the change or begin a smoking cessation program. The company also offered to reimburse employees up to $100 of expenses for approved tobacco cessation products such as nicotine gums and patches.

By implementing a tobacco-free policy, Blue Cross joins a growing list of Blue plans and Kansas employers recognizing the value a smoke-free environment brings to both the employees and the company.

According to the Center for Disease Control, a smoke-free work environment is shown to improve productivity through healthier workers, lower absenteeism rates, decrease medical costs and improve corporate image.

"As discussion on health care reform in our state continues we must not ignore that the best way to control costs is to lower utilization through increased prevention and healthier lifestyle choices," Bailey said.

"We each must make a commitment to improving our own health if we are going to have any significant impact on lowering health care costs."

According to the American Lung Association, cigarette smoking has been identified as the most important source of preventable morbidity and premature mortality worldwide.

An estimated 438,000 Americans die each year from smoke-related diseases while smoking costs Americans more than $167 billion a year in health care costs.

Smoking is a major factor in lung cancer, emphysema, coronary heart disease and stroke.

Bailey explained that in coming months Kansans will see Blue Cross take a more active role in promoting the benefits of smoking bans in public places as it partners with other organizations in promoting smoke-free environments and smoking cessation programs.

"We feel obligated to help get the word out that smoking is bad for not only the smoker's health, but for those around him or her," he said. "This is a cause we are getting behind 100 percent."

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. BCBSKS is the state's largest health insurer, serving all Kansas counties except Johnson and Wyandotte.

In addition to its headquarters in Topeka, Blue Cross has offices in Dodge City, Garden City, Hays, Hutchinson, Independence, Lawrence, Manhattan, Pittsburg, Salina and Wichita.


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