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  • Board of Supervisors approve tobacco surcharge

    Feb 11, 2015 | Read More News
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    ray carrollThe Pima County Board of Supervisors today voted 4-1 to approve a health care premium surcharge on current employees who use tobacco or nicotine, a change that will take effect July 1. District 4 Supervisor Ray Carroll voted no.

    The supervisors also voted to require employees who use tobacco or nicotine to enroll in and complete a tobacco cessation program of their choice within the 2015-16 fiscal year. Once an employee completes the cessation program, he or she will no longer be assessed a surcharge, regardless of tobacco/nicotine usage.

    The surcharge will be $30 per pay period for the 2015-16 fiscal year, and increase by $10 per pay period each year until reaching a maximum of $60 per pay period. Employees who are tobacco/nicotine free will be eligible to receive a healthy lifestyle premium discount of $5 per pay period.

    “We are going after smoking because this is the one behavior that if it were to stop could make a tremendous difference for the individual and their family,” said Allyn Bulzomi, Pima County director of human resources. “It is very cut and dried: Smoking is bad for you. The surgeon general said that in 1964.”

    Bulzomi acknowledged that nicotine is highly addictive, and that is why the county offers a number of tobacco/nicotine cessation programs through its Employee Wellness Programs. The county has one of the most extensive Employee Wellness Programs in the region, offering on-site exercise classes, Mindful Eating workshops, a walking club and personal coaching, among other things.

    Dr. Francisco Garcia, director and chief medical officer for the Pima County Health Department, said the county’s efforts are laudable, especially when considering facts about tobacco.

    “Tobacco use kills more than 480,000 Americans each year; more than AIDS, alcohol, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders, suicides and fires combined,” Garcia said. “Every day in our schools, shops, workplaces and everywhere in between we need to identify strategies that allow Pima County residents to live healthy, smoke-free lives.”

    Tobacco users cost the county more in healthcare-related costs than any other category of employee, including obesity, and national research estimates that each tobacco-using employee accounts for approximately $5,800 in increased employer health expenses annually.

    Approximately 32 percent of the county workforce of 7,200 full-time equivalents smokes or uses tobacco products, compared to a national average of 21 percent. Based on these numbers, Garcia estimates that tobacco use by county staff costs the county more than $10 million annually.