But a Bakers, Calif. employer came up with what might be the best incentive yet: Econo Air, an air conditioning sales store, offers a $500 bonus to any employee who quits smoking for at least three months, as was first reported by the local ABC news outlet.
In speaking to ABC 23, Gary Flanagan, the president of the company, said he came up with the plan after seeing close friends and family members die from smoking-related illnesses. "I lost a few family members [from smoking] and a short time ago, my best friend," he said.
He added that he is losing money from the program.
Econo Air worker Daniel Frye quit smoking after having smoked for years. "My stamina has increased twice, and it's awesome," he said."What I do is very hot, very strenuous. We find ourselves in some extreme conditions. It's a lot easier to breathe" as a result of quitting.
A recent study found that offering cash incentives can be a very effective motivator, at least when it comes to slimming down. Researchers at Cornell University and University of Texas at Arlington examined four different company weight-loss programs and concluded that "employees who received some sort of financial incentive, either by being paid directly or through a refundable bond program, experienced more weight loss than in the control group who weren't given any extra cash for their weight loss efforts."
Is it worth to offer cash to quit? There's plenty of evidence that workers who smoke incur higher medical bills. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an employee who smokes costs his or her employer an average of $3,400 a year in extra costs. As a result, 19 percent of 248 major U.S. employers made their workers who smoked pay more toward their health care costs, as The New York Times reported.
But are employers' anti-smoking policies infringing on workers rights? The debate remains open; twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have passed smoker-protection laws, but 21 states have no laws against employers' banning the hiring of smokers, as USA Today reported last year. In 1997, roughly one in four Americans were smokers, but as of last year, the number was closer to one in five, as the CDC reported.