Health Check: Hospital group helps employees quit smoking

It's estimated that one in five adults in the United States smokes.

Officials at Care New England Health System said they believe the hospital group's workforce is right in line with those statistics, which would mean that about 2,400 CNE employees and family members smoke.

"Smokers do have higher medical costs. Equally important, they're not at work as often. They aren't as productive, and it's also not such a good experience for our patients," said Domenic Delmonico of Care New England.

Care New England, which includes Kent, Butler and Women & Infants hospitals, is launching a new kind of smoking cessation program.

"This new program is based on research from an organization based in Rhode Island called Pro-Change, and their research talks about stages of readiness to change," Delmonico said.

Those stages range from "not yet ready" to those who have recently quit.

"And what we've done is tailored the program based on your stage of readiness," Delmonico said.

The only prerequisite is that participants currently smoke or have just recently quit. The incentive is money. But first, participants need to register and fill out a questionnaire. Just signing up earns a participant at least $100.

"And then based upon those answers, we give you feedback. And then in addition to that, there are two activities, very short, where you might read a testimonial from someone who has just quit, you might read an article about quitting smoking. And for doing those three things a month -- very quick things -- you're eligible for raffles," Delmonico said.

The raffle prizes range anywhere from $20 to $500 each week. The hospital pays the taxes, all on a prepaid credit card. And if participants agree to receive text messages, they'll get an extra $50 when they sign up.

"We found that the text message actually improves the smoking cessation rate by 10 percentage points," Delmonico said. "We tailor both the message and the frequency based upon how ready you are to quit."

Employees of Care New England have until July 15 to sign up for the six month rewards-based smoking cessation program. So far, 135 people have signed on.

It's being run like a study to see what works and what doesn't so that other employers might consider doing it.