Skip to content

Urschel Labs

Urschel labs
  • Headquarters

    Valparaiso, IN

  • Number of Employees


  • Industry


Urschel Labs Leads Employees Through Transition to a Tobacco-Free Campus

Forward-thinking small businesses throughout the country are steadily and quietly incorporating wellness programs into their workforce strategies. One such company is Urschel Laboratories, Inc., a manufacturer in northern Indiana with 300 employees. When Urschel Labs eliminated tobacco from its campus last summer, it not only created a healthier workplace but it also succeeded in changing many tobacco-smoking, tobacco-chewing employees into tobacco-free employees.

“Our campus-wide ban on tobacco marks the beginning of the company’s health and wellness program,” James E. Keilman, Director of Industrial Relations, said. “The company knew it had to start with tobacco,” he continued, “because cigarette smoking and tobacco chewing were so much a part of our campus environment.”

A Smoke and Tobacco-Free Environment: Why It Matters

According to The Mayo Clinic, Nicotine is potently addicting when delivered by agents such as cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and chewing tobacco, and it can be as addictive as cocaine. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. Men who don’t quit smoking lose on average 13 years of life; for women it’s 15 years.

In 2004, the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report expanded the list of diseases caused by smoking, revealing for the first time that smoking causes diseases in nearly every organ of the body.

“Smoking cessation is a very sound economic investment for a firm and is particularly profitable when long-term benefits are included, with an eventual benefit-cost ratio of 8.75.“ —K.E. Warner, et al., Health and Economic Implications of a Work-Site Smoking-Cessation Program: A Simulation Analysis, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, October 1996, pp. 981-992.

The transition to a tobacco-free campus took Urschel a year and a half, and had a lasting impact on company culture and wellbeing. Here’s how they did they made the switch.

Going From a Smoke-Free Building to a Tobacco-Free Campus

Urschel Labs went smoke-free inside its plant and offices in 1998. However, employees could still chew tobacco inside and smokers could still smoke outside, usually congregating around doorways and in parking lots. “Going smoke-free did not solve the problem, so we knew that we would have to take the more difficult step of banning the use of tobacco use completely from company property,” Keilman recalled.

At the same time, the company was experiencing double-digit increases in healthcare premiums, and the city banned smoking in its restaurants and public places. Moreover, company leaders were increasingly concerned about their employees’ health, according to Heather Nimmons, Manager, Cost Accounting. So Urschel embarked on the following plan.

  • Access local resources. The Tobacco Education & Prevention Coalition for Indiana’s Porter County and the American Cancer Society provided Urschel with detailed program outlines, educational materials, and names of consultants trained in smoking cessation.

  • Secure a commitment from the company’s leadership. The company’s president, Robert R. Urschel, sent a letter to employees in April 2006 announcing the company’s decision to become a tobacco-free campus and said the company would be offering a company-wide intervention program and other resources.

  • Give employees time to adjust. Urschel’s letter outlined a two-stage process: On September 1, 2006, the building would go tobacco-free, meaning “the use of all tobacco products will be restricted to outside of the building during lunch, breaks, and non-working hours.” On July 1, 2007, the entire campus would be tobacco-free.

  • Hire outside consultant(s) to work with employees and/or bring in your EAP. Urschel hired Mary Ennes, a local consultant accredited by the American Lung Association, as a smoking cessation specialist. Because she was an ex-smoker who had successfully quit for eight years, Ennes had immediate credibility with the employees. Ennes held two series of classes at the worksite. Each class included 45-minute sessions twice a week for three weeks, then one session a week for six weeks. [Note: Urschel paid employees in full while they attended sessions.] About 22 employees showed up for the first session; 10 finished the class, and 6 quit smoking. In her second class, two chewers quit along with more smokers. Ennes believes that companies who wish to see a real return on their investment in creating a tobacco-free environment must get tobacco users to quit. “Otherwise,” she explained, “we’ve found that smokers start paying more attention to the next cigarette break rather than their work, resulting in lost production time.

  • Repeat “the message.” Urschel’s HR department posted motivational tips and reminders of the quit date weekly at the Xerox machines, the water cooler, etc. “The postings played a significant part in the program’s success,” said Nimmons. Martha Denny, HR coordinator, also distributed nicotine gum to employees on a controlled basis as directed by the manufacturer.

  • Treat all employees equally. Every employee had access to the same treatment options, and no employee was exempt from the ban.

  • Financially support employee choices. Urschel Labs reimbursed employees directly for nicotine patches, medications, and alternative therapies.

Employee Reaction

At first, a few employees protested Urschel’s decision, citing their “personal rights”; the company simply let those protests play out. Employee Tim DeMan, a 20-year smoker, was more typical of the response from smokers. He attended the first class out of curiosity and began competing with a co-worker to see who could go the longest without a cigarette. DeMan has now been smoke-free for 17 months. Although at least one employee eventually quit the company rather than quit tobacco, Denny reported that all new hires are enthusiastic about the tobacco-free policy.

The Tobacco-Free Day Arrives

The company decided to treat the first day of a tobacco-free campus the same as any other day—no balloons, no fanfare. “We wanted a quiet transition,” said Keilman, “and it worked.” The day went off without a hitch, and the campus has been tobacco-free ever since.


Urschel’s costs were minimal, according to Keilman, “especially when one considers the pay-off.” Urschel incurred a brief loss in production while employees attended sessions, and it absorbed expenses for the medications and additional services. In the end, the company expects to see savings comparable to those reported in the literature. (see sidebar)

Douglas M. Ziedonis, M.D., M.P.H., Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center and expert in the field of tobacco addiction and organizational change, observed that the success of Urschel’s plan was probably due to the company’s leadership, planning, clear communication, and strong support for a variety of treatment options for their employees. He said, “Research shows that treatment can be effective, and some individuals benefit from medications and behavioral therapy as well as social support. Some who smoke heavily may also have other psychiatric problems, such as depression, anxiety, or alcohol dependence. They will need treatment for these disorders and to have more intensive tobacco addiction treatment that is modified to their unique situation.”

The Urschel Mindset

Everyone interviewed for this story believes that the company’s mindset contributed substantially to the program’s success. “We have strong loyalty from the top down and the bottom up,” Keilman said. “The company has low turnover, good benefits, and a safe and clean environment (e.g., production departments are given an hour at the end of each week to clean up their work space). These all made for a smooth and successful transition.”

About Urschel Labs

Urschel Laboratories, Inc., is a world leader in the design, manufacture, and sales of precision food-cutting equipment. Urschel® equipment is used by every major food processor in the U.S. and in more than 100 countries worldwide. The company, based in Valparaiso, Indiana, is family owned and maintains test facilities in 12 countries.

By Sanda Hass Yamhure

Last Updated: April 2008

Across every industry, field, and background, employers have an incredible opportunity

Get Free Tools, Resources & Mental Health News

Sign Up