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Guest Column: Smoking cessation programs are in everyone's interest

The effects of smoking have a devastating impact on the health of Wisconsinites.

We're losing loved ones because of smoking, and it's affecting our families, our businesses, our economy and our communities.

Smoking is unsafe at any age, in any amount, and for any period. It significantly reduces life expectancy and hampers quality of life. The good news is, smoking cessation can be beneficial at all ages.

By providing smoking cessation resources to the people of Wisconsin who smoke, we can make an enormous improvement in public health.

When I served as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), we created a national network of smoking cessation quit lines to provide all smokers in the United States access to the support and latest information to help them quit.

As part of this initiative, the Wisconsin QuitLine was born (800-QUIT-NOW). We also began offering DHHS employees smoking cessation benefits and made all DHHS facilities smoke free.

Today, in my role as president of Logistics Health, Inc., based in La Crosse, we have made the work campus smoke free and extend smoking cessation benefits to employees.

I urge Wisconsin businesses to take similar steps if they have not yet done so. Fighting smoking must be a partnership among parents, teachers, coaches, the media, government, community groups and business.

By making moderate changes, Wisconsin businesses can have a significant effect on the health and wellness of employees. Consider providing greater access to cessation programs, and offering health insurance benefits that cover medication and other treatment.

Surveys show that about three out of four U.S. smokers say they want to quit, but fewer than 5 percent of smokers who quit for at least a day are able to stay tobacco-free for three to 12 months. Success rates increase dramatically when smokers use evidence-based treatments such as physician advice, FDA-approved medications, or telephone counseling.

Employees who are educated about the dangers of smoking and who are ready to try to make a commitment to quitting deserve the help of Wisconsin business leaders.

The health of Wisconsin workers is in everyone's best interest.

(Tommy G. Thompson is the former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and former Wisconsin governor.)