If you're a city of Augusta employee who smokes and has been thinking of quitting, now might be a good time to do it.
The puff police might be on the horizon.
A smoke-free workforce could save the city about 5 percent in insurance premium costs over time, a BlueCross BlueShield of Georgia representative told members of the Augusta Commission's administrative services committee on Monday.
The subject arose when commissioners questioned costs, benefit changes and exclusions in the proposed 2008 contract with BlueCross BlueShield.
Committee Chairman Jimmy Smith asked City Administrator Fred Russell whether it would be possible to have a smoke-free workforce.
Mr. Russell said it was possible, but it wouldn't be easy.
"Other places do," he said. "It usually causes a great deal of turmoil with staff and those kinds of things there. Or you could charge more for people that smoke."
But there's a downside to that, too.
"Then you end up with people lying to you about whether or not they smoke, to be honest with you, in a lot of cases," he said. "Not all cases."
However, smokers do affect the city's health-care costs, he said.
"The smoker traditionally has more respiratory problems," he said. "Their family has more problems - not individually, but on the average."
And smokers aren't the only ones who could end up paying higher premiums.
Out-of-shape workers who don't exercise also drive up insurance costs, Mr. Russell said.
"Those are the kinds of things we're going to have to do over a period of time as we start looking at that," he said. "Smoking is something that is tough to tackle, but other places have and other places do, and it saves them money."
The full Augusta Commission will discuss the contract renewal at next Tuesday's meeting.
Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.