Updated 05 June 2013

Smokers cost employers thousands

Staff members who smoke can cost their employer up to R57 000 a year compared to non-smokers, research shows.

Compared to non-smoking employees, every staff member who lights up costs their employer tens of thousands more each year, according to a new report.

The researchers found that more time off, smoking breaks and added health care costs were to blame for this discrepancy. The findings could have implications for smoking policies in the workplace, they suggested.

"Employees who smoke impose significant excess costs on private employers," Micah Berman, of the College of Public Health & Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University, and colleagues wrote. "The results of this study may help inform employer decisions about tobacco-related policies."

Costs of employing a smoker

For the study, the investigators analysed previous studies in order to estimate the costs associated with employing a smoker. In making their calculation, they also analysed absenteeism, presenteeism (lower productivity while working due to smoking-related health problems), smoking breaks, health care costs and pension benefits for smokers.

The study, published inTobacco Control, revealed that low productivity due to more missed days at work costs employers, on average, R5 000 annually for each employee that smokes. Meanwhile, presenteeism costs R4 500 annually for each smoker, smoking breaks cost about R30 000 a year per smoker and excess health care expenses cost about R20 000 annually for every employee that smokes.

Because smokers are more likely to die at a younger age than nonsmokers, annual pension costs were an average of about R2 900 less for each employee who smoked, the researchers noted. Overall, the total estimated cost to employers was about R57 000 per year.

In the United States alone, 19% of adults smoke, putting themselves at greater risk for cancer, heart and lung disease. Some companies avoid hiring smokers or have started charging employees who smoke higher premiums for health insurance, the researchers pointed out in a journal news release.

"It is important to remember that the costs imposed by tobacco use are not simply financial costs. It is not possible to put a price on the lost lives and the human suffering caused by smoking," Berman's team wrote. "The desire to help one's employees lead healthier and longer lives should provide an additional impetus for employers to work towards eliminating tobacco from the workplace."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on smoking and tobacco use.


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