Burning money: smokers cost you money

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Smoking kills, but it also costs employers and countries billions in loss of productivity.

According to new UK research, smokers miss an average of up to three days more a year compared with non-smokers – and that added absenteeism cost the UK economy £1.4bn in 2011.

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, from the University of Nottingham, 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,” they wrote.

The £1.4bn pounds lost in the UK due to smoking-related absenteeism was only one of the costs 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 researchers’ 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, which is the equivalent of about $6,000 in lost productivity.

However, smoking is costly for smokers too, and that’s not just because of the price per pack. Health insurance is higher, and the expected lifespan of smokers is almost 10 years shorter than their non-smoking friends and family.

Health professionals suggest that workplaces should put a smoking policy, which includes the following, in place:


  • A statement that the organisation operates in a non-smoking environment, and which states whether the organisation 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 (eg: lunch break).
  • A 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 subsidising quitting aids (eg: chewing gum, patches).



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