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Winston-Salem Workers To Pay More For Smoking

Tue, 06/15/2010 - 5:57am

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) -- Employees of a North Carolina city that's home to one of the nation's largest tobacco companies will have to pay more for health insurance if they smoke cigarettes or use other tobacco products.

City employees will have to pay more beginning in January unless they take a test to prove they have no nicotine in their bodies, the Winston-Salem Journal reported Tuesday.

In addition to paying more, employees who smoke or use other tobacco products will be eligible only for the city's basic health-coverage plan and not for a plan under which the city covers more costs.

Assistant city manager Martha Wheelock said the city is using a preliminary figure of an extra $20 per month for premiums for employees who use tobacco.

The move continues a trend of trying to keep down costs overall, Wheelock said.

"We as a city have talked about smoking in particular for a number of years, at least internally, and I think we're ultra-sensitive to the topic given where we live and the roots of our city," she said.

Winston-Salem is the home of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the second-largest tobacco company in the country.

Testing has found that 14 percent of the 3,600 covered city employees and retirees use tobacco products. But the percentage likely is higher because not everyone took the test, Wheelock said. It's not certain how much the city will save, she said.

Employees likely will be tested annually for nicotine, Wheelock said.

"It's a little harder to quit than they think," said Mickey Ferguson, a heavy-equipment operator for the streets department and a smoker.

The city will again offer smoking-cessation classes to employees, and it started paying for anti-smoking aids last year.

Jeff Goins, a technician in the city's parts department, was in the first round of classes, and they helped him kick the habit for 4.5 months. He said he didn't plan on taking the classes again.

"It's a waste of time. I know I have a problem," he said. "I have to go with their policy, but I don't think it's a fair decision."

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