Burning money: smokers cost you money

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Smoking kills, but it also costs employers and countries in loss of productivity. Smokers miss an average of up to three days more a year compared with non-smokers.

That added absenteeism costs the UK economy £1.4bn in 2011, according to a British study.

Current smokers were 33% more likely to miss work than non-smokers and they were absent an average of 2.7 extra days per year, according to Jo Leonardi-Bee of the University of Nottingham, UK, and her colleagues.

The researchers calculated that current smokers were still 19% more likely to miss work than ex-smokers, so encouraging smokers to quit could help reverse some of the lost-work trends.

"Quitting smoking appears to reduce absenteeism and result in substantial cost savings for employers," wrote Leonardi-Bee and her colleagues.

The £1.4bn pounds lost in the UK due to smoking-related absenteeism was only one cost of smoking in the workplace, according to Leonardi-Bee and her colleagues. Others included productivity lost to smoking breaks and the cost of cigarette-related fire damage.

In the analysis smoking was tied to workers' short-term absences as well as leaves of four weeks or more.

Earlier research found smokers take an average of an hour a day for smoking breaks, the equivalent of about $6,000 in lost productivity.

Smoking is costly to smokers too, and not just the price per pack. Health insurance is higher, and their expected lifespan is almost 10 years shorter than their non-smoking friends and family. Health professionals suggest putting a smoking policy in place, covering issues such as:

  • A statement that the organization operates in a non-smoking environment, and whether the organization will accommodate the needs of smokers
  • If smoking breaks are permitted, HR must decide on whether to take a restricted or unrestricted approach: the latter would state that the privilege would be removed if abused, and the former that smoking is only permitted during designated break times (e.g. lunch break)
  • List of designated smoking areas and a request that butts are disposed of properly
  • A statement of support to employees who wish to quit smoking — whether by providing access to quit programs or by subsidizing quitting aids (e.g. chewing gum, patches)



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