A recent report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the food and hospitality industry is the second-highest occupation group in the U.S. hampered by smoking. But Joe Bastianich, renowned restaurateur and judge on FOX’s hit show “Master Chef,” has made it his mission to help foodservice professionals quit the habit.

“It’s a huge problem—30 percent of the industry smokes. If we can lower the number of people who smoke in this field of work, one that I’m very passionate about, it improves the overall quality of the industry,” Bastianich says. “Sense of taste and smell are impacted and generally, as a smoker, you’re going to be less healthy than a non-smoker. For those in the industry, preserving your palate is key. When you quit, you’ll notice these senses become sharper almost immediately.”

Until last year, Bastianich smoked more than two-and-a-half packs a day, a habit that started interfering with his ability to taste and smell, senses at the heart of his profession. He says a number of things promote smoking in foodservice, including late nights, long hours, and smoking coworkers. Eventually, he says, smoking becomes part of the workday norm and a crutch for workers.

Bastianich didn’t have an easy time quitting the habit. He took up exercise, avoided triggers like coffee and alcohol, and used the NicoDerm CQ patch. He also made a public declaration and gathered support from his family and friends.

Because support was so crucial for Bastianich, he’s now partnering with Blueprint to Quit, a comprehensive program, to help others get started on the path toward ditching the habit.

“It is important to us to provide our employees with as much support as we can to allow them to live a healthy and happy life.”

“Blueprint to Quit can help with physical cravings associated with smoking and provides behavioral support online when you need it,” Bastianich says. Using a tool like this is important because fewer than 5 percent of people who try to quit smoking without a specific tool or program successfully quit, he says.

Because smoking is a two-part problem—both a physical addiction and a habitual addiction—Blueprint to Quit offers a two-part solution: nicotine replacement treatment, such as Nicorette gum or NicoDerm CQ patch, and an online behavioral support tool to manage the behavioral changes.

The National Restaurant Association (NRA) has also established Blueprint to Quit as the official quit-smoking program for its members.

“As restaurants’ champion, we are committed to educating and equipping our members to be as successful as possible in their foodservice roles—and that means helping them quit smoking,” says James Balda, senior vice president of membership and business innovation for the NRA, in a statement. “We’re proud to call Blueprint to Quit the official quit-smoking program of the NRA because we recognize the benefits quitting can have on both the health and professional success of our members.”

Smoking employees can create a host of problems for those in the quick-service industry, experts say. If a delivery driver is a smoker, they carry the smell of smoke with them when they enter someone’s home or office to make a delivery. Some customers might be so offended they will not place another delivery order. The same is true with employees working inside: It’s unappetizing if they have a strong smoke odor.

In an effort to help its employees deal with smoking, Jason’s Deli started a smoking-cessation program in 2011. The fast casual noticed a problem among its workers, especially its delivery drivers, and enacted the plan to make things as easy as possible for people to quit the habit.

“We started it to give our employees the financial help they needed to stop smoking. We felt it was important to remove that obstacle,” says Willa White, director of accounting services for Jason’s Deli. “It is important to us to provide our employees with as much support as we can to allow them to live a healthy and happy life.”

The Jason’s Deli program reimburses any employee up to $145 per quarter for over-the-counter smoking-cessation products, provided the employee submit a form signed by their sponsor (a general manager or higher). As of December 2012, the company had provided reimbursements to 30 employees.

“It seems to be declining, but there are still a lot of our folks that smoke,” White says. “There are several big concerns with smokers. The first is the employee’s health. Obviously, a healthy employee is a happier and more productive employee. The second is the cost from both lost time and insurance cost.”

Bastianich hopes that more quick-serve operators and others in the industry will follow the example set by Jason’s Deli, and that the industry will eventually become smoke-free.

“Outside of health, smoking for those in and out of the food industry has a huge impact on many facets of life,” Bastianich says. “If you love food, taste and smell are essential, whether you’re in the restaurant business or not. After quitting, you no longer feel controlled by the need to have a cigarette. Being in control of your life is a key component personally and within the industry.”

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