Vaping, e-cigarettes added to definition of tobacco use in ERS policy

Starting September 1, all participants in Texas Employees Group Benefits Program (GBP) health plans who use electronic cigarettes and vaping products must be certified during Summer Enrollment as tobacco users and pay the tobacco user premium.
The ERS Board of Trustees voted in March to extend ERS’ Tobacco Policy to include e-cigarettes and vaping products.

The revised policy defines tobacco products as any type of tobacco, including but not limited to cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, snuff, dip and all e-cigarettes or vaping products. Vaping products that do not contain tobacco or nicotine also are considered tobacco products.

The new definition aligns with the Texas Health and Safety Code, as well as policies by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A tobacco user is a person who has used any tobacco product (as defined in the ERS policy) five or more times in the past three consecutive months.

Employees who need to certify themselves or a dependent as a tobacco user because of the change should do so during their two week Summer Enrollment phase. Failure to appropriately certify tobacco use can result in a fraud investigation, financial penalties and termination from the GBP health plans.

How to certify

To certify tobacco use or change tobacco user status, because of the policy change, employees should log in to their ERS OnLine account during their Summer Enrollment phase and click the Tobacco User Certification link. They can also certify online at Certify Tobacco Use, or by calling ERS toll-free at (877) 275-4377. They can view their current tobacco certification status through ERS OnLine or in the Personal Benefits Enrollment Statement they will get before their Summer Enrollment phase this summer.

Promoting a healthier, tobacco-free lifestyle

ERS implemented its tobacco policy in 2012 after the Texas Legislature passed a law authorizing an additional premium charge for tobacco users in the GBP. The policy provides an incentive for health plan participants to stop using tobacco products and supports ERS’ efforts to promote healthy behaviors.

Since then, employees and retirees enrolling themselves or their dependents in a GBP health plan have had to certify whether or not they are a tobacco user. Certified tobacco users must pay a monthly premium of $30 per tobacco user, with a maximum of $90 per month for three or more tobacco users in a household.

Resources to kick the tobacco habit

There is help for those who want to stop using tobacco products. All GBP health plans cover some type of tobacco cessation products or resources. Find out what’s available to you by contacting your health plan or visiting its website.