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

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

May 6, 2020

During Summer Enrollment, all participants in Texas Employees Group Benefits Program (GBP) health plans who use electronic cigarettes and vaping products must certify as tobacco users and begin paying the tobacco user premium starting September 1.

Board of Trustees iconThe ERS Board of Trustees voted in March to update 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 Human 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.

Health plan participants 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. (Note: Visit this link to see the phase dates.) Participants who certify themselves or a covered dependent as a tobacco user will be charged the monthly tobacco user premium starting September 1. 

Failure to appropriately certify tobacco use can result in a fraud investigation, financial penalties and termination from the GBP health plans.

How to certify

You can certify tobacco use or change your tobacco user certification status by doing one of the following two things:

  1. Log in to your ERS OnLine account during your two-week Summer Enrollment phase and click Tobacco User Certification.
  2. Call ERS toll-free at (877) 275-4377.
You can view your current tobacco certification status through ERS OnLine or in the Personal Benefits Enrollment Statement you will get before your 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

no smoking logoAll 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

Participants who stop using tobacco products can change their certification and stop paying their tobacco user premium.

ERS also offers Choose to Quit, a program in which participants work with their health care provider to develop an individualized plan to limit or end their use of tobacco products. Once you complete the plan and submit a Choose to Quit certification form signed by your doctor, ERS waives the tobacco user premium for the remainder of the health plan year. Read FAQs about Choose to Quit

For more information about ERS’ tobacco policy and the tobacco user premium, view the Tobacco Policy FAQs.