Saturday, September 21, 2013

Handling of e-cigarettes by some insurers, employers a drag for users

Pittsburg Tribune-Review
By Kari Andren

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A preliminary analysis of e-cigarette cartridges by the FDA in 2009 indicated some contain tobacco-specific nitrosamines, known cancer-causing agents, but found the amounts were comparable to those found in products such as nicotine gum and inhalers.

But some employers haven't waited for the FDA to weigh in on e-cigarettes, which come in flavors ranging from candy corn and apple pie to juicy peach, blueberry and caramel cappuccino.

Wal-Mart, which employes about 1.3 million people nationally, has been charging tobacco users higher insurance premiums for about three years and recently added e-cigarettes to the list, said spokesman Randy Hargrove.

Employees who use tobacco products pay a higher insurance premium, but Hargrove declined to say how much more. Wal-Mart considers cigarettes, cigars, pipes, snuff, chewing tobacco and electronic cigarettes to be tobacco products, Hargrove said.

Beginning next year, UPS will join Wal-Mart.

“I can tell you that self-identified smokers will pay an increased monthly premium beginning Jan. 31, 2014,” said UPS spokeswoman Ivette Lopez. “Nicotine e-cigarettes are considered a tobacco product for UPS.”

DEBATE OVER RISK

The move has drawn fire from some who view e-cigarettes the same as other products that help smokers break their tobacco addictions.

“(Companies) should be basing their premium for health insurance on health risks, and the health risks of inhaling tobacco smoke are fairly well known,” said Elaine Keller, president of the Springfield, Va.-based Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association.

“There is absolutely no actuarial evidence that e-cigarettes raise any risks for health because they are very much like the inhalers ... (used) to wean people down off nicotine,” Keller said. “There are no known cases of cancers, lung disease, etc. from those, so there's no reason to expect it from e-cigarettes.”

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