A research paper, titled “Estimating the Cost of a Smoking Employee”, published by Dr. Micah Berman of the Ohio State University, College of Public Health, strives to uncover the cost differences between smokers and non-smokers in private U.S. companies. So, the burning question on everyone’s lips, is an employer likely to incur significant loss when hiring a habitual smoker?
There has been much impassioned debate over the health and cost implications for the smoking masses. On a personal scale, it is estimated that individuals who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day will likely lose an estimated $2,000, annually. A broad range of health risks are typical, with smoking accelerating the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, whilst increasing the likelihood of developing a plethora of cancers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website highlights a number of scientific research articles, elaborating on the prominent clinical complications, associated with smoking. Studies estimate the following risk increase, when smoking:
- 2 to 4-fold increase in Coronary heart disease
- 2 to 4-fold increase in Stroke risk
- 23-fold increase in Male lung cancer
- 13-fold increase in Women developing lung cancer
- 12 to 13-fold risk of death from chronic obstructive lung diseases (e.g. chronic bronchitis and emphysema)
In essence, however, smoking affects all organ systems and increases your effective risk of developing more than 50 clinical pathologies.
Berman’s study aimed to investigate five different factors, which sought to expose the knock-on impact of smoking-related issues to work place productivity. These included absenteeism, presenteeism, lost productivity due to smoking breaks, healthcare costs and pension benefits. Berman clarified “… ‘presenteeism’ refers to lower on-the-job productivity due to a lack of attention… caused by short-term cycles of nicotine withdrawal.“
When interpreting the cumulative, financial impact of each of the afore-mentioned employment productivity factors, the study approximated employers were likely to experience a net loss of $5,816 when hiring a smoker over a non-smoker.
Half of the projected financial losses were attributable to a reduction in yield productivity, owing to a smoker’s intermittent cigarette breaks. The study determined that cigarette smokers took a daily average of five breaks, compared to non-smokers, who took a daily average of three breaks. Unsurprisingly, health costs were the next most significant factor, “totaling more than a third of the projected costs,” representing a $2,056 slice of the sum deficit. Absenteeism was also impacted by smoking, with cigarette smokers missing two-and-a-half extra days of work, relative to their non-smoking counterparts.
However, Berman exercises restraint when judging these findings, stating:
“We caution that this is a rough indicator of excess costs and that costs may vary significantly depending upon the industry, the specific employees, and numerous other factors.”
These data provide interesting insight into the potential fiscal damages accrued by hiring companies. Taking a large conglomerate as a prime example, filled to the rafters with its frenzied laborers; it’s quite conceivable that sizable losses would be inevitable if a reasonable fraction of the workforce encompassed smokers. According to Pfizer, one of the leading pharmaceutical companies, the average number of workers who smoke has declined between 1997 and 2006, from 27% to 23%. If an single smoker costs a company close to six thousand dollars, annually, imagine what the costs could ramp up to when including, say, 20% of a large corporation’s extensive workforce.
These studies could also represent a rather conservative value of the economic impression that smoking has on a company’s bottom line. Dr. Berman notes:
“Our study did not include all possible smoking-related costs and may therefore be an underestimate.“
However, government measures are now being adopted to reverse the overall trend of cigarette smoking and, it is likely, that the number of those that smoke will continue to decline. A long list of government resources are dedicated to helping smokers kick the habit, including cessation policies, telephone help-lines, youth tobacco prevention schemes and a National Tobacco Control Program (NTCP). The primary goals of the NTCP include eliminating exposure to second-hand smoke, advertising smoking cessation schemes, preventing induction of youth into a culture of smoking and overcoming population-based differences in smoking attitudes.
And, then again, with the advent and promotion of the electronic cigarette, will this trend of decline in fact pull a U-turn? The e-cigarette contains no harmful carcinogens, which means far fewer health issues, and is a tool that is gaining significant public interest and market traction. Since the device does not release any harmful emissions, it isn’t beyond the realms of all possibility that workers would be permitted to continue working, whilst enjoying a smoke. Whether e-cigarette smoking would continue to provoke “presenteeism” issues is another matter, however.
If these studies are to be believed, it seems, when smokers light up their cigarettes, they’re also burning through the company profits. Are you responsible for your employer’s loss, and costing your company the big bucks?
By: James Fenner