Tobacco Surcharge

Not only does tobacco use affect an individual’s health, but usage may affect productivity in the workplace as well. A number of studies have determined that those who use tobacco are absent from work more often than non-tobacco-users. In addition, research has shown that many tobacco users tend to be less productive when they are at the workplace, due to impaired performance from the physical effects of nicotine and other chemicals in tobacco.

As of January 2014, an employee must pay a surcharge of $75 per person, per month, if they and/or their spouse/same-sex domestic partner are tobacco users. The goal of this surcharge is to support the health and wellness of the University’s employees by discouraging the use of any tobacco products, which are harmful to health even when used in moderation.

During Benefits Open Enrollment in November, you will verify the above criteria through the Employee Self-Service Information System (ESSIC).  This surcharge applies to Teamsters employees as well.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the University Defining as a tobacco user?

The University is defining a "tobacco user" as someone who has used tobacco more than five times in the previous three months. Tobacco includes cigars, cigarettes, chewing tobacco, pipe tobacco, e-cigarettes or any other tobacco product.

Will new hires be able to qualify for the waiver of the tobacco use charge?

Yes, new hires will be asked to make the appropriate selection in ESSIC (tobacco user or non-user) based on their tobacco use status at the time of hire.

Are electronic cigarettes included as tobacco use for the surcharge?

Yes, because they may contain tobacco, or they may contain nicotine, which is derived from tobacco. The health effects of using electronic cigarettes are currently unknown. Several studies regarding the long-term health effects of nicotine vapor, both inhaled directly and secondhand, are currently in progress. The FDA will be developing regulations on electronic cigarettes as tobacco products under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.

I use the nicotine patch; does that count as tobacco use?

No. Nicotine replacement therapy, such as the nicotine patch or nicotine gum, does not count as tobacco use.

Isn’t this really just another way to shift costs to employees?

No, this is a benefit change designed to encourage employees to improve their health by offering financial consequences to those engaging in unhealthful, modifiable practices. It is often argued that those who are making healthy choices should not have to pay for those who are not making healthy choices and who have a higher claim experience. Higher claim costs drive premiums up for the entire Penn State population because the University is self-insured.

What resources are available to quit?

Tobacco Cessation Programs Available to Penn State Employees and their family members:

Click here for the PA Free Quitline website to enroll online and learn more about Quitline services.

FREE: Health Advocate “Take Control for Good” tobacco cessation. Your 13-week program provides you with unlimited access to your own personal coach, who can help you set up your own quit plan and support you every step of the way. Call 866.799.2728 to obtain your own cessation coach.

Highmark FREE Telephonic Wellness Coaching - Free for Highmark members. Members meet with a personal wellness coach for sessions that last 10-20 minutes. There are two Ways to access Telephonic Coaching:

Call Blues on Call at 1-888-BLUE-428 (1-888-258-3428), 9:00 am - 9:00 pm E.T.

Call the Wellness Resource Center at 1-800-650-8442

PA Quitline 1-800-QUIT-NOW (784-8669)  By contacting the PA Free Quitline, you can receive, for FREE:

Up to 5 coaching sessions by phone

Unlimited calls to the PA Free Quitline as needed

Educational materials on quitting tobacco use

Free Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) (up to 8 weeks of patches) for qualified callers.

Tobacco-Cessation Products available with no cost-sharing to Penn State Highmark members. Here's how the program works:

Visit your physician to obtain a prescription for the tobacco-cessation product that you would like to use. You must obtain a prescription, even if you plan to use an over-the-counter product.

Take the prescription, along with your Penn State Highmark Blue Shield card to a pharmacy.

The pharmacist will fill the prescription and there will be no cost to you.