New Tobacco Policy Wins Some Irks Others

Ryan Lake



The Mississippi University for Women is implementing a new health policy in mandated by the State and School Employees’ Health Insurance Management Board.


The new plan would include a $50 per month surcharge for faculty and staff who self-declare their use of tobacco products. Sharon Foster, Human Resources Generalist, explained the new plan in detail.


“The Board decides. Our insurance is through Mississippi State and School Employees’ Health Insurance. They have a management board and they are the ones who decide what the changes are in order to balance the benefits versus the costs,” said Foster.


The human resources professionals had a feeling that a change of this nature was in the works. The board had been talking with other states in order to research the implantation. However, the news was recent.


“We heard about it at the annual meeting. It wasn’t announced to us until October 14. The change won’t be in effect until July 2015, the new surcharge will $50 dollars and it will only be for the employee,” said Foster.


W employees will have to sign a form stating whether or not they use tobacco products. Human resources hopes to have all of those forms signed by May 2015. The program offers several tobacco cessation services including home delivery of cessation aides.


Those who choose not to quit using tobacco will have to start paying the surcharge June 2015 since payroll is a month ahead. I asked Ms. Foster if there was any discount for those who pursued a healthy lifestyle to which she said that may happen in the future though nothing was definitive at this point.


Dr. Barry Smith, the department chair for the communications department, mentioned his role in ensuring the implementation of the policy and his thoughts on the issue.


“The email was sent to everybody. I don’t know many people actually read it,” said Smith laughing.  “It’s [the policy] is not all that uncommon, other employers in other states have tried this both private and public. Usually because people who use tobacco have higher health risks.”


The plan still doesn’t offer much in the way of incentives to promote a healthy lifestyle aside from the tobacco cessation options.


“It’s purely if you’re doing bad stuff you pay for it. So no incentive to do better,” said Smith

Smith himself doesn’t smoke but his colleague Mr. Eric Harlan does and he’s willing to pay the surcharge in order to continue to do what he’s been doing for 36 years.  


“There’s already a surcharge anyway. When you fill out your application for your insurance they ask, “Do you use tobacco, do you smoke.” if you tell the truth your premiums go up. We’re already paying it. Only those who don’t’ answer truthfully don’t pay the higher rate,” said Harlan.  

Harlan wasn’t surprised that this change was coming. But he worries that the change will lead to a slippery slope which removes personal responsibility.


“There has to be personal responsibility. There’s not a smoker out there who will tell you honestly that they don’t’ know the risks. They understand I’ve got a better chance cancer, better chance of heart disease, better chance of disease.—when you get others trying to tell you how to live your life then there’s no more personal responsibility. Someone you don’t know, an unseen bureaucrat, will decide how you should live, what you it should eat, how much exercise you get and if you don’t, you get penalized. That’s scary, that is scary,” said Harlan.


Harlan agreed it would be nice if the plan offered incentives for good health choices but the real issue is how to enforce the plan. Who will make sure people aren’t smoking or that they are actually going to the gym. Whatever the case, it seems that for smokers like Harlan they’re more than willing to pay the surcharge in order to enjoy their freedom.