Employers Are Adding Anti-Vaping Support For Parents to Their Wellness Benefits

As you’ve probably seen by now in the news, vaping rates among teenagers are increasing at an alarming rate. From 2017 to 2018, e-cigarette use among high school students increased a whopping 78%! In 2019, 27.5% of high school students—more than 1 in 4 — are vaping.

E-cigarette use among middle school students also jumped 48% from 2017 to 2018. And, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, e-cigarette use among 18-24-year-olds increased 60% from 2017 to 2018.

While young e-cigarette users may not be directly on your payroll, they still impact your workforce and your bottom line. Your employees’ children are (most likely) on their family health plan, and nicotine addiction could translate into higher healthcare costs.

In fact, young e-cigarette users who weren’t smokers in the first place are four times more likely to start smoking cigarettes than their peers who don’t vape. We all know the healthcare costs associated with smoking, so this isn’t an issue to take lightly.

This urgency is amplified even further by the vaping-related lung illnesses and deaths that you’ve likely been reading about in the news. As of this week, more than 2,500 lung injury cases and 57 deaths have been reported to the CDC, the vast majority among young people.

Many parents (your employees!) are flying blind when it comes to supporting their own children who might be vaping. Here’s the rub for you: These parents (again, your employees) can be distracted while at work dealing with the issues that come along with teens who are vaping, affecting their performance and productivity.

While some companies are experimenting with apps or phone-based coaching as a tool to support e-cigarette users, there are very few resources available to help the parents of kids who vape.

As a result, some employers are beginning to offer a new kind of benefit — virtual support to parents of middle school, high school and college-aged kids who vape. The ExProgram, an smoking cessation program created by the Truth Initiative and the Mayo Clinic, is one that has broadened in the last year to include an anti-vaping program. This new benefit offers evidence-based resources to help e-cigarette users of all ages quit and guide parents who support them. With a few simple clicks, employees can sign up for daily text messages to understand vaping and nicotine addiction and how to recognize it, and advice on how to help their child quit.

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Parents can also access one-on-one live chat support, making it easy to connect with treatment experts. What’s more, these live chat coaches are trained specifically in treating addiction and supporting loved ones. So, not only can they provide quick responses to common questions from parents about vaping, these coaches also have a deep level of knowledge and experience in the addiction world to inform their guidance.

Finally, another unique aspect of this emerging benefit: Parents and adult dependents can also receive support by participating in online communities of current and former e-cigarette users. E-cigarette users often describe quitting vaping as a very socially isolating experience, that few people in their circle of friends and family understand. 24/7 support from people who “get it” can be a powerful part of their success.

Of course, virtual support is part of another progressive benefit some companies now offer: A fully digital tobacco cessation program. These programs offer quit support to employees and, just as importantly, dependents, ages 18-25, who smoke, vape, and chew tobacco. According to SHRM’s 2019 benefits survey, 39% of employers offer a tobacco cessation program; a percentage that has actually declined over the previous 5 years.

Because vaping is impacting both teens and young adults as well as their parents, as they may worry about the health effects of nicotine addiction, this emerging benefit is definitely something to keep your eye on. And, as vaping rates continue to rise among the younger demographic, digital support and outreach could become a valuable piece of your evolving benefits package.

Megan Jacobs, MPH, is managing director of product for the EX Program, a digital tobacco cessation program developed by Truth Initiative in collaboration with Mayo Clinic. Jacobs led the development of the first evidence-based text messaging program to help e-cigarette users of all ages quit. Her expertise in building powerful mHealth interventions and public health campaigns comes from work at the University of Michigan Health Service, DC Department of Health, and the National Vaccine Program Office. Her public health work over the past 15 years has applied technology to behavior change ranging from adolescent sexual health to vaccinations.

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