Smoking in the Workplace: Why Quitting Benefits Everybody

Quitting smoking might have a multitude of benefits to the smoker, but the benefits extend well beyond that. As well as improving his or her health, employees who quit smoking will also avoid exposing colleagues to second-hand smoke and will even improve their productivity.

Most people know that smoking is incredibly dangerous for the user. With risks ranging from lung cancer to heart disease, COPD, diabetes and much more, there is no doubt that smoking is one of the most dangerous activities people engage in. For employers, while smoking may be ultimately the choice of the individual who smokes, there are many benefits to having workers who don’t smoke, and helping those who do smoke to quit. These range from improved productivity to protecting other employees from the risks of second-hand smoke resulting from smoking in the workplace.

The Risks of Second-Hand Smoke to Others

Aside from the first-hand risks to the smoker, the most well-known and easy-to-identify issue relating to smoking in the workplace is that of second-hand smoke. The burning tip of the cigarette and the smoke exhaled by the smoker contain masses of harmful chemicals, and prolonged exposure can increase the risk of health conditions like heart disease, lung cancer and stroke in adults.

Thankfully, the majority of employees in the U.S. are protected by smoke-free legislation at either the state or local level. This means fewer people are exposed to second-hand smoke, but unfortunately some individuals still are. If you’re living somewhere without comprehensive smoke-free air legislation, smoking in the workplace (or even in a dedicated smoking room) could be putting other employees at risk of health problems.

For the well-being of workers, creating outdoor smoking areas is the simplest approach, but other benefits mean that going further and trying to help employees quit is the best way to help your workers and your business.

Smoking and Workplace Productivity – Do Smokers Take More Days Off Work?

One of the biggest impacts of smoking on workplace productivity is the issue of absenteeism. While all workers are bound to miss work sometimes, evidence shows that smokers are more likely to do so than non-smokers. A study looked a large group of workers, comparing the productivity losses between smokers, former smokers and current smokers. The results show that while non-smokers lose an average of 35.2 hours per year by being absent from work, current smokers are off work for 53.6 hours per year, for slightly over 50 % more time off each year.

Smoking and Workplace Productivity – Are Smokers Less Productive While at Work?

The study from the previous section also looked at “presenteeism,” which is time while the employee is at work but is being unproductive due to health issues. As you may expect since health issues are more common in smokers, the study found that smoking employees were a bigger issue for presenteeism. On average, non-smokers lost just less than 43 hours per year due to presenteeism, but for smokers the figure was 76.5 hours per year, almost 80 % more than non-smokers. This underlines that the issue of smoking in the workplace isn’t merely a health concern; smokers actually do less work than non-smokers.

Smoking in the Workplace: Smoking Breaks

Smoking breaks are not explicitly allowed in the U.S., and employees have no legal rights to take a smoking break. However, some employers still allow employees to take smoking breaks, and if you do, these have to be paid breaks. This isn’t common, though, because smoking breaks are transparently unfair to non-smoking employees, who are generally more productive and less likely to take days off work. Smokers should only be allowed to smoke on allotted breaks, and shouldn’t be given any special treatment to facilitate their habit.

Helping Employees Quit Smoking

For all of the reasons above, the ideal solution to the issue of smoking in the workplace is encouraging employees who smoke to quit. There are many ways you can do this, but the most important thing is to ensure smoking cessation is covered by any employee-sponsored health insurance, which is a requirement of the Affordable Care Act.

The American Lung Association has a more comprehensive set of suggestions, including budgeting for four counseling sessions per quit attempt, and not placing any limits on the amount of quit attempts a smoker can have in his or her lifetime. This goes above and beyond the legal requirements, but does a lot more to ensure as many employees successfully quit as possible.

Most quit-smoking approaches are suitable for reducing smoking in the workplace, including nicotine replacement therapies, medications and behavioral counseling. However, other approaches such as switching to smokeless tobacco or electronic cigarettes can also be effective for some smokers, and encouraging this may help increase the number of quit attempts made by your employees.

Regardless of the approach you use, ensuring there are options available to smokers looking to quit, and encouraging and supporting any employees who do make an attempt will help as many of your employees quit as possible.