US researchers found that several factors including absenteeism, smoking breaks and healthcare costs result in a greater cost to the employer for having a smoker on staff and this cost could help inform their workplace tobacco policies.
The risks to a person’s health from smoking include a higher risk of developing cancer, heart or lung disease and currently around 10 million adults smoke in Great Britain – a sixth of the population – while around 19% of the adult population in the US are smokers.
Previous studies have found that smoking by employees costs businesses money because of smoking-attributable productivity losses and medical expenditures, but estimates have been vague and did not distinguish between costs borne by employers and those absorbed by others – the smokers themselves, insurance companies, or taxpayers.
A team of researchers from the College of Public Health & Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University in the US set out to calculate a more precise excess financial cost for private employers to have an employee who smokes, compared with a non-smoking member of staff.
Their study was carried out in the context of some US employers having begun to charge smokers higher premiums for health insurance, while others have decided they will only hire non-smokers. Some firms have even decided they will no longer retain employees who do not quit smoking within a given period of time.
The researchers reviewed and analysed previous studies on the subject to estimate certain discrete costs associated with smoking employees.
They then developed a cost estimation approach that approximates the total of such costs for US employers and examined absenteeism, presenteesim (lower productivity while working because of nicotine addiction), smoking breaks, healthcare costs and pension benefits for smokers.
Calculations showed that low productivity due to excess absenteeism costs employers, on average, $517 (£344) a year per smoking employee; presenteeism cost $462 (£307); smoking breaks cost $3,077 (£2,045); and excess healthcare cost $2,056 (£1,367).
In addition, because smokers tend to die at a younger age than non-smokers, annual pension costs were an average of $296 (£195) less for an employee who smoked. The total estimated additional cost to the employer came to $5,816 (£3,865) per year.
The researchers concluded: “Employees who smoke impose significant excess costs on private employers. The results of this study may help inform employer decisions about tobacco-related policies.
“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. 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.”