Businesses bribe smokers to quit

My problem with the anti-smoking lobby has always been that their attacks on smokers have also ended up being stealth attacks on individual freedom. Case in point: Smokers are now being bribed to give up their rights.

Of course, the Suits call it a "financial incentive" - but it's still just a sugarcoated bribe.

Basically, businesses are starting to offer these incentives to entice their employees to quit smoking. It's not entirely unsuccessful. General Electric offered a $600-reward to any of its employees who were able to kick the habit for one full year. In the end, 15 percent of the employees who were paid cash incentives were still smoke-free after a year, compared to just five percent of the employees who received no such cash incentive.

The study's author, Dr. Kevin Volpp from Philadelphia's VA Medical Center for Health Incentives at the University of Pennsylvania, says offering incentives like cash "makes it easier for you to do in the short term what you know is in your long-term best interest."

Whose best interest, exactly? Who benefits from having a mass of non-smoking employees? Well, for one, companies like GE. Remember: follow the money. If you think that GE shelled out thousands of dollars out of a genuine interest for the care and welfare of its employees, well you've obviously never worked for a big company.

Big companies are motivated by money, and according to the Centers for Disease Control, an employee with a smoking habit racks up an average of $3,400 of costs to the company per year. They say this figure stems from the overall cost of healthcare for smokers, as well as reduced productivity and absenteeism.

But I'm betting that there's more to it than that. There's bound to be government tax breaks and financial incentives involved as well. What else would motivate a corporation to dole out $600 checks to thousands of employees like it's passing out candy?

And if you think I'm being cynical, keep in mind that this study was funded by the CDC.

GE's Chief Medical Officer Robert Galvin, who also helped run the study, says that the results of the research were so impressive that GE plans to offer this incentive program to all of their $152,000 U.S. employees in 2010.

As we all know, smoking is notoriously difficult to quit. The director of the University of Michigan Tobacco Research network said that since many smokers can often relapse into the habit, it's possible that company incentives would have to continue to keep their employees away from smoking. Seems like a never-ending cycle to me.

The president of the National Business Group on Health said that while corporations would "prefer not to pay" employees to quit smoking, "it's worth it." Why? Not because they care so much about their employees, but because it helps the bottom line, plain and simple.