How much does it cost to light up? A pack of cigarettes now goes for more than $12 in New York City – a pretty hefty sum. But the biggest cost of smoking goes beyond the cigarettes themselves. According to a comprehensive new study published in Tobacco Control, an employee who smokes will cost companies nearly $6,000 dollars every year. And you might be surprised to learn that the single largest contributor to the extra expense of employing smokers is actually smoke breaks, which cost companies more than $3,000 in lost productivity per smoker per year. Here’s why:
- Smoke breaks interrupt employee focus. As states introduce new bans on smoking in public areas, smokers often need to go farther and farther away from their desks to smoke – adding time and expense to every break.
- Smokers may be distracted from work by nicotine cravings or making plans for their next break. “Though all employees are occasionally unproductive in one way or another, research suggests that smoking status negatively impacts productivity separately and apart from lost work time due to smoking breaks,” the team behind the study confirmed.
- Smokers miss more days of work, due to health problems and other reasons.
So what can employers do to reduce smoking-related costs? Not hiring people because they smoke is prohibited in 29 states and the District of Columbia. But there are a number of options that have proved successful:
- New wellness program guidelines let employers use rewards of up to 50 percent of health care plan premiums to encourage employees to quit
- Healthy snacks and wellness activities at work may help redirect smoking behavior toward another activity
- Putting together groups of coworkers who want to quit smoking helps employees support one another, increasing the likelihood that they’ll successfully quit
- Taking a phased approach can also produce amazing results. Nelnet used a wellness program to cut smoking by 73%. They started small with employee screening and education, then added a smoking cessation program. Nelnet then amped up its efforts by offering incentives to quit and eventually became a tobacco-free workplace.
Employers should keep in mind that quitting isn’t easy. Laurie Whitsel, policy research director for the American Heart Association, told NBC News that “Most smokers take six to nine times to be able to quit a tobacco habit. It is incredibly addictive.” But by educating employees about effective quitting strategies, offering incentives to quit, and providing a supportive environment, companies can go a long way toward cutting their costs – and ensuring employee health.